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Being able to identify and use a range of meaningful question techniques is a key development area for new coaches. However good questioning is an art and takes lots of practice to develop and hone. There are some common errors made by new coaches which often need focus. Time spent honing these will transform how you work with you coachee and the outcomes achieved.

Scene setting

There are no ‘$64,000’ ‘silver bullet’ questions in coaching. Those perfect questions we hope to have and use. But the coach can continually develop a range of really helpful questions for themselves: questions that land and resonate with clients. The ability to use and apply these questions is critical for the coach.

I find that as people learning about coaching and practice, their questioning techniques are often one dimensional and quite surfaced based to begin with. Initially, coaches look for and grasp at questions to ask. They are unsure or afraid to go deeper with their question, or form a series of stepped exploratory questions. Slowly with practice they become more comfortable with allowing themselves time to formulate questions based upon what the they have heard the coachee sharing and where the coach wants to explore. Thinking and planning beforehand helps, but in the moment the best laid plans often fall away.

Coaching questions are there to develop more awareness, provide insight, challenge and clarity for the clients. In doing so, provide the coach with INFORMATION. The more information the coach has the more they have to use and provide further areas for exploration. They also develop more understanding of their client too.

Coaching practice is a good place to play and explore questions and question techniques and its ok to do this, providing the client’s development isn’t affected.

Common new coach questioning traits

Common traits and mistakes by new coaches include:

  • Not properly listening to the coachee, hearing what they are saying and asking questions aligned to what has been shared.
  • Only questioning at a surface level – asking a question, receiving a response but not going any further with it.
  • Asking questions primarily around issues and practical elements – being quite tactical and functional in their questioning approach
  • Poor variety of questions – relying on a core group of or stock questions (especially in the Options section of GROW)
  • Higher levels of closed type questions – especially in the beginning. Closed questions are their natural default style
  • Not being fully present and focused. I once had a coach who I was training. She recognised that when she was properly with the coachee, focused, she used a higher ratio of open questions. When she relaxed and became more casual, she asked more closed questions. A great observation.
  • Few questions around coachee thoughts, feelings and experiences.
  • Afraid to ask questions about the past.

Be conscious of your questioning

I encourage coaches to include and reflect on the questions they use within their reflection notes, not only to demonstrate competence in their questioning techniques, but to examine what questions worked in the sessions, what themes they notice about their questions and to learn how to build a broader range of questions in one area, so not becoming dependent or stale.

At the end of your session there are opportunities to gain feedback on your coaching generally but also to tease out feedback on the questions which the client felt worked or didn’t work for them and why.

Below are a numerous questions the coach can sample and explore in their coaching. Though they are centred around the GROW model, they are transferable to other coaching models too. Look at the Abintus resources on GROW questions.

Go deeper with your questioning techniques

Most new coaches only scratch the surface with their questions and techniques. They don’t delve as deep as they could do. Never really peeling away the layers of a situation, feeling or issue.

One technique which is handy is using the questioning funnel which starts with an open questions and each question follows on from this. Here is an article around funnelling questions.

Listen before you question

The first part of questioning is listening.

Listening intently to the coachee, hearing their words and observing them. Many new coaches struggle with this as they find themselves thinking of the next question as they try to listen to the coachee.

I encourage them to capture any question in their head on a piece of paper in the moment. This allows the coaches full attention to be on the coachee.

After listening the coach then is encourage to understand what they have heard. From here they can then formulate a question based on what they have heard.

Questioning around thoughts, feelings and experiences

Asking questions around how a coachee thinks or feels about something can be unnerving, for both parties.

Before venturing into this area effective relationship building and scene setting within the contracting can prove very beneficial in ‘warming up the coachee’. Sharing that you may well ask some more detailed questions to help them more.

When questioning in this area the questions don’t have to be deep, just simple questions combined with a gentle toned delivery:

  • What were you thinking about this at the time?
  • How did that impact upon you personally?
  • What were you feeling when they said this?
  • How do you want to feel about this moving forward?
  • What’s going inside of you when you are talking about the situation?
  • The situation then compared to now, what’s different in how you view it / think about it / feel about it?
  • Describe how you think / feel about what’s been happening.
  • If you did make the change and became the 8 you used in scaling, how would you be feeling in the future?

If you sense that someone might be less open about sharing these things perhaps try and position your questions before asking:

I want to understand more about how this has affected you. I want to ask you some questions that go a little deeper if that’s ok..?

Note the words and phrases the coachee uses. If they mention specific feelings and thoughts, or in general, this can be a lead in for you to try a test question and see where it lands with them. How they respond to it.

Questioning about the clients past

eIt is perfectly appropriate to ask questions about the client past experiences, situations and behaviours, as long they are in the context of the current situation.

New coaches are often hesitant about exploring this, for fear of going to deep or being too personal.

Discussing areas to explore in the contracting phase often makes the whole process more pleasant. The client is open to it and they give licence to the coach to ask questions.

If it hasn’t been discussed during contracting then the coach can always position questions beforehand:

  • It would be really helpful to understand what brought you to this place. I would like to ask some questions about your former roles and experiences, is that ok?

Rarely have I experienced a client saying no to this.

Similarly, if the client naturally starts talking about their past, this is a potential open door for the coach. They can ask a simply question and see where it lands. If the client responds to it then there is a fair chance that are ok with similar questions.

Effective questioning is a cornerstone of any coaching intervention, formal or informal. For new coaches there is a lot to learn and apply. Investing time and intent around developing these skills builds confidence and can unlock coaching conversations for all parties.

Interested in learning more about developing your own coaching and mentoring skills. Contact Abintus and discover how you can bring about change for yourself and those in your team.