Five Tips for Effective Coaching Questions, Part 5

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In my last blog, I talked about Tip #4 for asking a good coaching question. Let’s look at Tip #5 today.

Five Tips for Good Coaching Questions

1. Keep them Open
2. Keep them Short and Stupid
3. Keep them Advice-Free
4. Keep them Forward-Focused
5. Keep them Thought Provoking

5. Keep them Thought Provoking

If a coachee asks you for coaching, chances are that the person has thought about the coaching issue for a long time, in multiple ways. They have thought about the causes, possible solutions and everything in between. Now they need you to help them think bigger than what’s in front of them.

As a manager,  you want to empower your employees to think out of the box and find innovative solutions to their problems. The problems could be task-related, such as “how to improve sales” or  they could be process-related, such as “how to collaborate better with the team”. Thought-provoking questions work in both situations. Either way, it’s important to help the coachee think bigger than their usual ideas.

Thought provoking questions may take awhile to answer, so it’s OK if the employee doesn’t have an immediate reply. You want the employee to think about the question and really look at it from all angles before answering. The sign of a good thought-provoking question is when the employee comes to you a week after you asked the question and says, “I’ve been mulling your question over. It really made me think.”

So how do you do this? When an employee comes to you with a problem, think about questions that will stretch the employee – questions that cannot be answered right away.

Here’s an example:


I’m certain that Plan X is the right way to go but I’m getting vibes that others disagree with me. What do I do?

Typical manager reply:

I think Plan X is a good idea too. So I think you should hold a meeting to discuss your points and persuade the others that your plan is the best.

Better coaching question:
Where will Plan X take the company, and this team, in 10 years? And where will it take you personally in 10 years?
(This will likely prompt the coachee to ask for more time to think about the question. The coach would then invite the coachee to let her know when she’s ready to discuss it in more detail.)

In my next blog, I’ll discuss more tips about using the word “why” in coaching questions.

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