Five Tips for Effective Coaching Questions

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People always ask me, “What exactly is coaching and how is it different from any other conversation?”

A coaching conversation is different from other conversations due to the amount of questions asked, and the type of questions asked.

In general, a coach should be doing 80% listening and 20% talking. If a coach is doing more talking than listening, then the coach is training or lecturing. There’s nothing wrong with training or lecturing, in certain situations. However, it’s not coaching. But if a coach is asking some powerful questions and then listening most of the time, you have a situation where the coachee is finding the solutions herself, instead of being told what to do. This frees up the coach to work on other projects and empowers the coachee to move forward on her own.

So what makes a good coaching question? Here are five tips to keep in mind:

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

1. Keep them Open
A coach wants her coachee to determine the problem and solutions by himself. Asking open questions that start with what, who and how allows this to happen; using questions that start with did, will, have and why actually shut down a conversation. Here is an example:

I missed my deadline again.

Typical manager reply:
Yea, I know. Why did you do that?

Better coaching question:
What got in your way?

The typical manager reply puts the coachee on the defensive, making him defend himself. The coaching question opens up the situation, without judgment or blame. It allows the coachee to focus on what got in the way, and then eventually what he wants to be different in the future and then eventually what steps he’ll take to get there.

In my next blog, I’ll go through the other four tips for good coaching questions. In the meantime, give it a try….when you’re next talking to an employee, student, child or colleague, practice asking questions that begin with what, who or how and see what happens. You’ll be surprised to see how the conversation opens up!

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