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7 Powerful Coaching Questions
More than any other skill, aspiring coaches must internalize this core tenant of coaching: we are not there to give our clients answers. Instead, our role is to help them discover answers for themselves... even when they think they don't have them!
To do this, we need questions. Incisive questions that can provoke thought, shift some feelings around, and help our clients gain insight. In this blog, we'll be taking a close look at a handful of our go-to coaching questions to explain the mechanics of what makes them so effective.
1. What makes this important as your goal for our coaching conversation today? What’s meaningful to you about this topic right now?
This line of questioning comes straight from the International Coaching Federation’s standard of practice known as “setting the agreement.”
According to the ICF, when we set an agreement with our clients, there are two parts of the process:
- Part One is the global coaching contract, which governs the purpose of the coaching engagement and discusses the ground rules between coach and client.
- Part Two of the coaching agreement takes place at the beginning of each individual coaching session. The coach must ask the client what the focus of the session is about, followed by a second question to gauge the client’s motivation.
As a coach, what you’re looking for with this question is the client's "why" behind the topic at hand. Why this, why now?
The positioning of this question sets up the work of the entire session, putting your client firmly in the driver's seat. It also provides the motivational context for both coach and client as the conversation unfolds.
2. Where are you today in relation to your goal? Is there anyone else involved?
This question invites the client to reflect on their current situation. After all, we can’t know how far a client actually has to go if we aren't clear about where they are in the present moment! When we highlight and discuss whatever gap the client is facing between here and their desired future, it helps to clarify what it will realistically take to achieve their objectives.
The second part of this question checks in on additional stakeholders. Sometimes your client is not the only person who needs to be involved in the process of reaching a goal. Identifying other players and external factors is important information for both coach and client.
3. What are some of your options in this situation?
In order to get started on any goal, it always helps to have a plan! A useful coaching framework for this comes from Life Design, which posits that there are 5-7 paths available to us at any given time, and that all of them are good ones.
Options can be action steps, or they could be potential outcomes in and of themselves. It can be a fun and productive exercise to dream in every direction with your clients.
4. On a scale of 1-10, how likely are you to follow through with this action?
This is known as a scaling question; it gauges a client’s readiness to act.
When a client gives a rating of 7 or above, fantastic! They have the motivation they need to take their next step.
If a client rates their readiness at a 6 or below, that is not going to cut it. When this happens, it’s time to circle back to their underlying motivation in relation to the larger goal. As coach, it’s your job at this point to help the client investigate and explore what needs to be done to increase their readiness to a 7 or above.
5. What will you take away from our conversation today, and are there any action steps you would like to commit to?
The ICF recommends closing out each session with a little space for clients to share and summarize any learning that was gained from the conversation. This helps the client to reflect back on what’s been covered, and to internalize their takeaways.
It’s also a best practice to invite the client to commit to an action. Even if there doesn't appear to be an obvious action arising from the coaching conversation, it’s always a good idea to raise the question.
A commitment to act won't always look like something you can check off a task-list. It may also include:
- Thinking about something
- Living with an idea
- Learning something
- Doing research
- Observing or noticing
6. Can you tell me more about this?
Diving deeper as a coach takes practice. It is normal for new coaches to take what a client has said and quickly move on, or jump into action planning. But a deeper cut of coaching practice is to use all of your senses as a coach, to check in and see if you really have enough information to fully understand your client.
Asking a client to say more sometimes gives them a gentle push to truly get clear on what they are talking about, as well as provide deeper understanding for you as coach.
7. Would you like to explore this dream and see if it’s a real possibility?
Sometimes a coach is the only person that a client feels safe disclosing their true dreams and desires to. The reality is that many adults have a lifetime's worth of dreams that have been deferred. Far too many people have come to believe that their dreams are impossible to accomplish.
The work of coaching believes that anything is possible, and all dreams are worthy of exploration. When you introduce this question, you are inviting the client to bring their dream into view and to begin searching for pieces of it that are within reach.
Often this path of inquiry makes a previously “impossible” dream feel surprisingly accessible. (This is just one more reason that coaching is the best job in the world!)
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