Rhonda G Hess
One of the most dynamic aspects of coaching is the powerful
question. If well timed and phrased, a question can bring
about dramatic shifts in perspective, attitude and clarity
for the client. It can draw out a client's wisdom or uncover
valuable data. It can elevate passion and motivate clients
to action. It can even illuminate something for the coach.
Of all the coaching competencies, this one is often the most
challenging to master. That's understandable. In our culture,
the most often asked questions are leading and loaded. As
children, and later, as employees, we hear mostly why questions
or closed questions, neither of which have much value in coaching.
We tend to perceive questions as tests. We may not learn how
to ask a well-formed question until we learn to coach.
Remember that rare and valuable question asked by a good friend,
teacher or book? They caused us to think for ourselves. And
that's what we aim for when we ask our clients a powerful
Anatomy of a Powerful Question
What makes a question powerful?
- It is motivated by curiosity.
- It usually begins with what or how.
- It is direct, simple and open ended.
- It is generally focused on the positive, what's working.
- It generates creativity or surfaces underlying information.
- It encourages the client to be self-reflective. (Therefore,
it is followed by silence to allow the client time to go within
for the answer.)
- It may not be immediately answerable.
From Good to Powerful
To improve your questioning skills, play a game with yourself.
Record your coaching sessions. Write down your questions and
rank them as good or powerful. Pay attention to the way they
landed for the client and how thoroughly they were answered.
If the question was powerful, analyze what made it so. For
the good questions, rephrase to a more powerful question.
In sessions, catch yourself asking good questions, and stop
to formulate a more powerful question. Your client won't mind
if you take a moment. They will benefit from your self-awareness
and your reframe in a number of ways.
Here are good and then, more powerful versions
What are you comfortable doing now?
What next step will give you the best result?
(Encouraging our clients to stay comfortable will not likely
help them grow or move forward. Instead, challenge them with
a positively framed option.)
Why do you feel that way?
Tell me what brought that feeling around? (Unless
very carefully timed and crafted, why questions evoke a defensive
and stuck response. Shift to - what - and draw out more information.)
What obstacles do you foresee in the future?
What growth opportunities are in this for you?
(The word obstacle can be de-motivating. Shift to opportunities,
which are motivators.)
What's wrong with this picture?
What's missing from this picture so far? (Shift
focus away from what's wrong to more honoring language - missing
and so far - will get the same or more valuable information.)
Are you satisfied with this session?
What insights are you taking away from this session?
(The word - are - begins a closed ended question. You'll get
more valuable information by framing an open ended question
and using the word insights.)
Why is that important to you?
How does that align with your values and vision?
(Why questions sound accusatory. With this reframe you encourage
the client to qualify their answer and they may perceive an
I'm wondering, what do you suppose would happen if instead
of creating this business now, you wait until you have the
finances to give yourself a more solid start?
Given your current financial situation, what other options
have you considered? (The first question is leading,
complex and long-winded. There's a potentially good point
aimed at the financial piece, so instead ask an open ended
question crafted to consider the finances.)
What did you do in the past?
What choice would you make for your highest good now?
(In general, what the client did in the past is not a good
framework for the future unless they bring up the past as
comparison. Instead focus them on the present and add the
qualifier - highest good - or something like it, to gear them
to be informed by their integrity.)
Do you want to stay home or visit your parents?
What do you want most? (Avoid asking either/or
questions that limit options. Ask open-ended questions and
qualify with the word - most - to get to the highest priority.
You can then ask - What else do you want? - To draw out more
What worries you about this?
What's at risk if you do this? (and then) What's
at risk if you do not do this? (and then) What
choice would bring the quality of life you want most?
(This series of questions helps the client evaluate the choice
in question rather than focusing on the negative. Always allow
the client to fully answer before asking the next question.)
The more you play the good/powerful question game the better
you'll get at asking powerful questions.
Stump the Mentor Coach
If you have a good question and you're wondering how to ask
it more powerfully, send an email to email@example.com
and let me know if I may publish your question and mine in
a future edition. I'll be in touch!
Rhonda Hess is a business success mentor coach for
professional coaches and other entrepreneurs. Her new business,
Prosperous CoachTM -- a professional development resource
for coaches -- launches early 2007. To learn more and receive
special offers, subscribe to Coaching from Center ezine http://www.bubblingwell.com
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