How to Ask Questions in a Coaching Culture
To encourage the creation and development of a coaching culture within an organisation we must focus on coaching skills - either overtly, in the case of dedicated coaches within the organisation, or indirectly, when everyone is encouraged to ask and to listen.
However, the skill of a great coach is in knowing what questions, and indeed what KIND of question to ask at various times when coaching in order to achieve the desired outcomes for all concerned.
The core competencies around ‘open questions’ are an essential part of the toolkit for anyone engaged in coaching, however we can go further as coaches build their skills.
Here’s a tool from the Harvard Business School that is adapted slightly to be more applicable to coaching, and that goes some way towards the goal:
Clarifying questions are used to ensure that what’s been said is understood by both parties. This might sound odd, but often a person being coached will say something - even something quite profound - but not really understand at a conscious level what they have said, or perhaps more accurately how what they’ve said apply to a particular context. A clarifying question rectifies this and avoids misinterpretation. Questions such as “Can you tell me what you mean by that?” “Why do you think that might be the case?” gives us the chance to really mine down to what the coachee means.
Adjoining questions are exploratory, providing a springboard for the conversation to move into broader contexts and perhaps to remove the blinkers from the eyes of a coachee who thinks that their idea, solution or issue only applies in one specific arena, when in fact it can be fruitfully applied to other situations to. Questions like “How could this be applied to another department?” or “What other situations can you think of where this might be the case?”
Funneling questions are designed to allow the coach to probe deeper into the mind of the coachee, and to really get to the thinking behind what has been said. “What did you do exactly, to reach this result?” “How did you achieve that?” “When did you start that process?”
Elevating questions the a broader view of issues. Questions such as “Are we talking about the real issue here?” “What would happen if that were always the case?”. Use of these questions can challenge too narrow a viewpoint.
Organisations often define a coaching culture as ‘a place where coaching is the default’, this definition has no merit if we don’t know what coaching is. Ultimately coaching is the ability to ask the correct type of question at the right time. Have the knowledge to bring out a suitable question that solicits the correct answer at exactly the right moment.
With this in mind leaders of today can no longer just ask the first question that comes into their head. Questioning should become an operational and strategic communication skill.
This adapted diagram comes from the Harvard Business Review’s article ‘The Art of Asking Questions’. For further information have a look at hbr.org