Coaching Fundamentals Part Two: Questions
What makes a good question?
Was this a good question? No.
Why not? Because it was too wide, too open, too unoriginal, just plain too boring, to provoke a meaningful answer. Yes, you can get answers to just about any question, but not every answer makes the question worth asking.
So then… what is a question worth asking in a coaching environment?
(And was this a good question? Better. Because it is more precise, which has a better chance of engendering original and meaningful thinking.)
A good coaching question is therefore precise. Precise in the sense that no words are wasted, superfluous or garrulous, filling out the space for effect, for obfuscation or decoration.
(Now there’s a good coaching question: simple, precise, with no other possible meaning but to invite further thinking.)
What else makes a good coaching question?
Unpreparedness. You know those “best coaching questions” that unscrupulous coach training providers sometimes post on Linked-in groups, or in airport books? Ignore them. Because there is no such thing as a “best coaching question” that could work in any situation, any dilemma, any coaching relationship. Worse still, if you use those, you risk being rumbled by your client very quickly, as a coach who’s not present, who doesn’t really listen, who’s not interested in being a thinking partner, but goes through a pre-prepared checklist, ticking off items one by one. A great coaching question arises in the moment, and surprises the coach as much as the coachee. A truly great coaching question is asked even before the coach has fully had time to articulate it, to turn it round and look at it from all its sides. It is definitely not something that the coach has used before, a “killer question” that worked really well with that client you had five years ago.
What else makes a great coaching question?
Intention. Unhelpful coaching intention is when you ask questions from your own curiosity rather than a desire to unlock something different in a client. So what did you do when she said that? And what is your boss’s name again? And what’s their relationship with their boss? All unhelpful. The client knows, and we (as coaches) don’t need to know; the answers just cloud our judgement, make the situation seem deceptively complex, and cause the client to go off on tangents or follow oft-treaded paths of inquiry. Coaching isn’t gossip (of the “he said/she said” variety), and it also isn’t a research article, where we’re trying to piece together as many sides to the argument as possible. Coaching is a relationship between two people, in the moment, where one of them spins meaning out of their life story, and the other holds – and occasionally adjusts – the spinning wheel, and notices the patterns emerging.
Ana is Programme Director of our Postgraduate Certificate in Coaching which is a masters qualification for experienced coaches.