Search the web (and this website) and you will find lots of articles about ‘good’, ‘fantastic ‘ and ‘effective’ coaching questions. We know questions are powerful for clients, raising awareness and self-discovery. Some questions though aren’t as effective and also bring risk into the coaching conversation. Here we explore some of these questions.

Closed questions

Closed questions have a place in coaching. Have a place if deliberately used to obtain specific information. Problems arise here because people ask them by default. It is their natural way to ask questions, rather than using open ones. Coaches who don’t pay attention to their client’s words are also more likely to react with a closed question.

Closed questions provide a definite answer, they force the client to make choices and decisions. They allow the coach to check their understanding of what the client has said.

Coaches need to be very conscious in the coaching sessions and in their questioning. In doing so they are less likely to ask impromptu closed questions.

If a coach listens to their client, processes the words and message, (checks for understanding) when required they are half way there to keeping questions open. Next by thinking about what they have heard, then thinking about what they want to understand next from the client, they can then formulate relevant approaches.

Asking ‘why?’

In an earlier resource we explored the use of why. Whilst it can be helpful to explore client motivations. It is often seen as being a lazy question. In doing so it is more likely to elicit a short client response, requiring a more thoughtful question to tease out a more useful answer.

‘Why’ can also be question that raises conflict or emotion in clients.  They can feel they are being challenged over a view or situation. Giving thought to what you want to ask can transform a ‘why’ question.

Instead of ‘why did you decide to take that approach?’ Try ‘what was your thinking when you chose that route?’ or ‘What made you try that?

Leading questions

Leading questions are commonly asked in everyday life ‘when did you speak to Steve about this situation?’. Meaning, (from the manager) you should have spoken to Steve. They lead the client to a place the coach consciously or unconsciously thinks the should go to. 

Here the coach as options. Keep it generic ‘who did you speak to about this?’ or ‘what have you done about this?

Alternatively the coach can be broader, multiple choice in their approach – ‘when did you speak to Steve, Clare, Mark or Sarah about this?’ Or they can offer ‘extremes’, showing bi-polar options, ‘so what did you do here, speak to the stakeholders or just do some research?

Multiple questions

Some people quickfire or ask multiple questions. Several are asked of the client in one breath. The client doesn’t know if they are to answer the first one or last one. And, they have forgotten what the questions were in the middle.

This arises if the coach hasn’t properly thought about what it is they want to ask. So what happens is that they unconsciously ask an array of questions to cover all eventualities.

Listening, processing and pausing can help the coach to distill down the question they want or need to ask based upon what the client has said.

Statement / information shared before asking a question

Often what can happen is the coach rather than internally processing their thinking, instead they verbalise their thoughts. Then once verbalised they tag their question on at the end. This means that there is a lot of the coach’s narrative which the client has to listen to and process, before then being questioned. It is almost as if the coach wanted the client to understand their thinking, or to justify their upcoming question. This can be both confusing and frustrating for the client.

If the coach records (with permission) part of their session they will recognise themselves doing this, and possibly what is causing it. If the coach gives themself time to formulate the question this can help. there is not pressure or rush to come to the table with the client and ask.

Overthinking questions

On occasion coaches can ponder too long attempting to formulate the elusive ‘killer question’ that will hit the mark spot on. What ends up happening is the question they ask becomes overly complex. And, when asked to repeat the question the coach cannot remember exactly what they said.

Questions should be simple and clear to both parties. Practice short, simple ones until they become more natural. Write out some out so that they will become more familiar.

Rhetorical questions

These come out as part statement, part judgement and part emotional. It is unconsciously said and the coach isn’t expecting an answer from the client. Indeed the client isn’t given the space to be able to respond. A typical such question might be ‘Really, you took that approach with them?

Being well versed in with an array of open questions and listening well in the first instance will help avoid rhetorical questions.

Interpretive questions

These questions have overlap with paraphrasing. The client says one thing then the coach puts their own spin on it when they then ask their next question. So rather than reflecting that Clare finds it uncomfortable speaking with her manager. The coach might say ‘so, you hate speaking with your manager?’

By reflecting the clients words ‘uncomfortable speaking with your manager’, then saying, ‘tell me more about that relationship’. This avoids any form or summarising or interpretation.

Asking ‘no go’ questions often happens unconsciously when the coach falls back into old habits or their organisational approach to communication. Being able to maintain focus and be present with the client means they are highly likely to maintain an open question approach. One trainee coach I once worked with recognised that when she relaxed too much her questions were of a lower quality. 

Interested in learning more about coaching, or becoming a coach? Contact Abintus for an informal chat about how he might be able to support your individual coaching or your organisational coaching agenda.