Coaching is much more about asking and listening than it is about talking. However, many coaches, particularly those for whom coaching is just part of their role (as is often the case in organisations that are moving towards or have embraced a coaching culture), find it hard to find the right questions to get their clients to open up.
Here are seven key questions, that can be used in a multitude of circumstances to get a client talking, and to help them to start finding the solutions they need.
If nothing could get in your way, what would you like to achieve?
What would have to happen for you to achieve that?
What else might that mean?
What can you learn from that?
Who could help you achieve that?
Why do you think this is happening?
What are you willing to commit to doing in order to achieve that?
The reason these questions work to unlock the client is that they are open questions, which can’t be answered with a yes or no kind of answer, but demand detail, and detail always carries information that can take the coach on to the next question. Sometimes a good open question will break a dam in the client and the coach just needs to sit back and pay close attention as the information…and often the solutions to issues and problems that had seemed intractable…just floods out!
Less experienced coaches will often ask questions - even open questions - in such a way that the client doesn’t need to provide their own answer. I call this the Shopping List syndrome; where a coach asks a good question, such as one of the above, but then adds a ‘shopping list’ of potential answers, so the client need only pick one that might seem right. This is an easy out for the client, but does little or nothing to resolving the problem or issue.
Any coach, no matter how experienced or well trained, can fall into the trap of asking a closed or leading question, or offering possible answers to their own queries. It’s important therefore to be on the alert when coaching, and to make asking open questions a natural part of your conversation even when not coaching, as by doing this it becomes second nature to employ questions such as those above when working with a client.