Almost every new or promising coach I know is obsessed with the idea of powerful coaching questions.
We have lists of questions, books of questions, written scribbles of questions we collected at conferences, so many questions we don’t know what to do with them and yet we still have doubts.
Let’s say you learn a list of 5 powerful coaching questions to ask, somehow when you get into the session with a client they don’t quite work how you remember them working. The client is evasive, doesn’t answer the question quite how you expected, answers the question but then you’re not sure what to ask next.
Somehow no matter how much you study and collect questions, it’s never enough.
Why is this? What’s going on here? And what can you do about it?
THE TRUTH BEHIND WHY YOUR COACHING QUESTIONS AREN’T POWERFUL ENOUGH
Questions are just words. And like all words when they are placed in the right order, in the right context, and in the right way they’re incredible.
Take this poem by John Bailey:
hide the path
These words are simple and yet when place in this way and when read slowly in your mind, like savoring a fall day, the simple words are powerful, maybe even profound.
The reason your questions aren’t powerful isn’t that you have bad questions. It’s that you haven’t practiced asking them. You don’t know how to ask them at the right time. You don’t know how to follow them to their natural conclusion. You don’t know how to improvise with them so you create a kind of breathtaking coaching that you long for.
SO THE PRACTICE IS TO LET GO OF ‘KNOWING’ POWERFUL QUESTIONS
And to instead, study and practice asking them.
“YA BUT I NEED TO KNOW WHAT TO SAY AND WHAT TO ASK”
You might object: “But I need to know what to ask! My questions suck!
When I watch you or Rich Litvin or Michael Neil or Brooke Castillo coach they have ALL of these great questions. I want to be like them.”
Absolutely. Try this experiment for a week:
Go watch some coaching videos of a coach you love and write down your favorite questions. Then for a week when you coach ONLY ask questions from that list. That’s it NOTHING ELSE. Nothing you create on the spot.
We often give people this exercise in the dojo and it’s actually incredibly difficult. Because it’s an unnatural way of coaching.
If you listen closely to Rich or Michael or Brooke you’ll notice they have lots of regular questions they use as well. Questions you never even noticed, because YOU didn’t think they were POWERFUL!!!!
HOW TO ACTUALLY ASK POWERFUL COACHING QUESTIONS
The REAL key to asking powerful questions is practice. To take a few simple questions, questions used with skill by master coaches, and practice them.
In the same way that a boxer practices thousands of jabs in her career, the same way a writer writes thousands of paragraphs, the same way a chess master plays thousands of games of chess.
Here’s how to do it:
1) START WITH SOME SIMPLE QUESTIONS:
The two questions I’ve practiced for several years are:
a) What would you like?
b) What would having that do for you?
These two simple questions were the two main questions my coach used with me for over two years. They are simple powerful questions that invite insight over and over again.
2) BRING THOSE QUESTIONS INTO YOUR SESSION
Start asking them in live coaching calls. Notice when you ask them what your clients say. And don’t just notice their content, notice the patterns of responses. Notice how certain clients have a habitual response to these two questions.
3) STUDY THE RESULTS AND GET FEEDBACK
After the session is over it’s time to reflect. Ideally you have a friend and a mentor watching the session live or watching a recording of the session and they’re giving you feedback on how you used the question, what worked, what didn’t, what you did well (that you didn’t notice), what you did poorly (that you didn’t) notice, how the client responded in ways you notices (and in ways you didn’t notice.
4) ADAPT AND TRY AGAIN
Of course, just getting feedback isn’t enough you need to adapt and try again, to learn from your mistakes and make corrections. Over time these small shifts create a powerful result. Like they say, LARGE doors swing on small hinges. Even though these shifts are small they are incredibly powerful. It’s really not different than the power of coaching itself.
LEARNING TO TRULY MASTER THE ART OF POWERFUL COACHING QUESTIONS
All of the above can be done imperfectly of course, but this is the KEY to actually asking powerful questions. Of course, you can do what most coaches do and simply try to ask better questions but that’s usually not enough.
You need deep, powerful, and deliberate practice to continue to deepen and improve.