Leadership

Coaching Through Effective Questioning

One of the main techniques of coaching is asking questions. However, not just any question will do. There's a few considerations to lead to increased awareness and responsibility.

Coaching is a way of maximizing people’s potential by increasing their self-awareness, sense of responsibility and self-confidence.

One of the main techniques of coaching is asking questions, regardless of the coach’s level of expertise on the subject being discussed. However, not just any question will do. There’s a few considerations to have in mind when asking questions to facilitate that the conversation can lead to increased awareness and responsibility by the person being coached.

Ask Open Questions

When you are coaching someone, you want them to reach moments of realization through dialog. However, the dialog is not the end result, but rather what happens in the person’s head. If you ask closed questions, you won’t allow the person to really think on the subject or situation to provide themselves with insights. Do not ask questions that evoke a yes or no response.

But Don’t Ask Questions That Are Too Open

The questions you use for coaching purposes shouldn’t be too open, either. Otherwise, they could still lead to a hiatus in the conversation. For example:

You: How did things turn out in Project X?
Them: Good
You: …

Instead, you can ask open questions while still guiding the conversation in the direction you want it to take:

You: Was there something particularly challenging to you while working on Project X?
Them: Yes. I had difficulty getting John to provide an update, and had to chase him every time.

This opens up the possibility to focus on specific topics that the person being coached could improve and do better the next time they’re faced with a similar challenge.

Use Quantifying Questions

Let’s re-use the previous example, this time with a twist:

You: Was there something particularly challenging to you while working on Project X?
Them: No

The question still has the chance of leading to a closed road. Instead, use quantifying questions like what, when, how much, how many, etc. For example:

You: What was the most challenging situation to you while working on Project X?
Them: Getting updates from John. I had to chase him every time.
You: Ok, let’s focus on that.
[…]

Quantifying questions also focus on specific answers of factual nature. In this way, it’s easier to raise awareness through observation of facts, rather than discussing about the individual’s interpretation of things.

Zoom-in Once You’ve Found a Coaching Opportunity

Once you’ve found a discussion topic based on the answers to your questions, dig deeper. Focus on the topic and help the coachee discover any important pieces they may have previously obscured because they deemed them unimportant for the discussion –consciously or not–, but that in fact could be key to addressing the root cause of the situation.

But Zoom-in Only If Important

Do not dig deeper on a topic that’s not of interest of the coachee. You can implicitly read his interest on their body language or tone of voice. If it’s unclear if they’d like to discuss further, ask them: “I’ve noticed that you’ve mentioned X. Would you consider this an important subject to discuss?”. However, do not discard a topic of discussion simply because the coachee seems to be avoiding the topic. You can address this by asking “You haven’t mentioned X so far. Is there any particular reason?”.

Sometimes coachees may also lead the way in a direction that’s might not be important, but allow them to discover it themselves. Questions should follow the interest of the coachee, and not the coach.

One comment

  1. Great Points Mauricio, and I particularly like the ‘But Zoom-in Only If Important’ theme, I will look to see how I can apply that.

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