The Importance of Coaching Questions
Author: Dr. Nancy L. Zentis, CEO, Institute of Organization Development
I remember when I entered into the field of coaching and realized how difficult it was to ask questions that helped clients get at the real heart of their issue. Many questions starting with the word “what” seemed too direct, others felt as if I was providing the answers. I searched in vain for a model that could help me improve my questioning capabilities. I drew on my hero, Carl Rogers, who demonstrated effective questioning techniques. I observed how he would get interested in what was going on in the client’s world, show true empathy through active listening and body language, and ask questions to understand what the person was saying, thinking, and feeling. He used a technique called “mirroring” to reflect their emotions, often moving or speaking with the same emotion. He referred to this as unconditional positive regard – having true understanding of the other person. He was truly amazing at the art of questioning. I envied him and realized I needed to master my own questioning techniques to become an effective coach.
So, what is the secret sauce to asking effective coaching questions? One of my colleagues, Jim Milner, says, “The secret is to show that you care about the client and the question they want answered.” Jim believes the coach should develop a trusting relationship with the client where truth can be spoken by creating a space to find coachable moments. He believes the coach should focus fully on the person being coached and use language that creates distinctions to create awareness and allow for behavior change.
Another colleague, Margarita Plasencia, who specialized in Ontological Coaching, asks her clients to describe how they are feeling, what is physically going on in their body, and how it is manifesting itself in the current situation. Her coaching questions provide a genuine transformation in the client’s way of being by creating more powerful and constructive ways of engaging with different aspects of one’s life.
The role of the coach is to build an effective coaching relationship and believe in the client’s ability to find their own answers. The coach looks for coachable moments to help the client think deeper or differently about an issue. Most of the coaching questions start with the word “what” or “why”. “What and why” questions focus on the present and encourage the client to make changes in his or her thinking and behavior.
Questions such as: “What is the issue you are trying to solve now?”, “What is happening right now and why is this important?”, “What do you think is the best outcome?”, “What do you think can make it happen?”, “What actions will you need to take, and what are the next steps?”, are questions that help the client think through their issues and encourage them to have confidence to take the next step. The coach’s role is to listen and seize coachable moments and ask questions that create an inside out shift in the client – an internal shift in thinking, attitude, or position that affects current thinking and behavior.
The coach asks questions that move the client forward and encourages them to take a new approach or commit to an action – “What would you do differently next time?”, “What action will you take next?”, “What will it take for you to implement the next steps?”. Asking these questions helps to encourage the commitment level of the client to take the next step.
You might also want to assess their commitment level by asking, “Are you prepared to take change?”, “How important is it to make a change?”, and “What are the consequences if you don’t make the change?”
The coach’s role is to support their client by asking powerful questions to help the client gain awareness of their own reality, to help the client think differently about their situation and learn something different about themselves, and to help the client identify what actions they might be willing to take or identify the consequences for not taking action.
By developing the art of asking powerful questions, your clients will learn more about themselves, solve their own problems, and learn how to change and grow as a leader.
Dr. Nancy Zentis is the Chief Strategist and CEO of Institute of Organization Development (IOD), offering online certification programs for those interested in Organization Development, Talent Management, Leadership Development and Executive Coaching, and Professional Development Skills for ongoing learning. As a consultant in the field of OD for many years, Nancy is recognized for her experience in creating strategies for Leadership Development, Executive Coaching, Talent Management, and Organization Development Change.
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