Three coaching questions
What are your favourite coaching questions? I often use 3 that I’ve found can create a remarkable shift in awareness, insight and practice, especially in team coaching. I’ve applied them using variations in language and adapted them to different client issues, opportunities and challenges. They draw on principles from psychodynamic, Gestalt and solutions-focused coaching and are particularly helpful when a client or team feels stuck, unable to find a way forward.
* ‘What’s your contribution to what you are experiencing?’
* ‘What do you need, to contribute your best?’
* ‘What would it take..?’
Client: ‘These meetings feel so boring! I always leave feeling drained rather than energised.’ Coach: ‘What’s your contribution to what you are experiencing?’ Client: ‘Excuse me?’ Coach: ‘What do you do when you feel bored?’ Client: ‘I drift away, look out of the window.’ Coach: ‘What might be the impact on the wider group when you drift away?’ Client: ‘I guess others may disengage too.’ Coach: ‘How does the meeting feel when people disengage?’ Client: 'Hmmm…boring!’
Coach: ‘What do you need to contribute your best?’ Client: ‘It would help certainly if we could negotiate and agree the agenda beforehand, rather than focus on things that feel irrelevant.’ Coach: ‘So you want to ensure the agenda feels relevant to you. What else?’ Client: ‘If we could meet off site and break for coffee from time to time, that would feel more energising.’ Coach: ‘So venue and breaks make a difference too. Anything else?’ Client: ‘No, that’s it.’
Client: ‘I don’t think I can influence where and how these meetings are held.’ Coach: ‘It sounds like you feel quite powerless. How would you rate your level of influence on a scale of 1-10?’ Client: ‘Around 3’. Coach: ‘What would it take to move it up to a 6 or 7?’ Client: ‘I guess if I showed more support in the meetings, the leader may be more open to my suggestions.’ Coach: ‘What else would it take?’ Client: ‘I could work on building my relationship with the leader outside of meetings too.’
These type of questions can help a client grow in awareness of the interplay between intrapersonal, interpersonal and group dynamics, his or her impact within a wider system, what he or she needs to perform well and how to influence the system itself. They can also shift a person or team from mental, emotional and physical passivity to active, optimistic engagement. What are your favourite coaching questions? How have you used them and what happened as a result?
25/3/2014 02:51:54 am
Nick, that's an interest comment, why do say that? :-)
27/3/2014 01:46:32 am
Thanks Paul. Clever. ;)
Nick, love the first question on what is your contribution. I will keep that one in my back pocket.
27/3/2014 01:48:29 am
Thanks Jo. I think that's an excellent question! With best wishes. Nick
25/3/2014 06:21:01 am
My favorite questions are those that are made in response to the coachees specific situation and need at the time. I don't believe in 'killer questions' or specific questioning approaches that unlock anything. If coaching were about a set of questions that 'did the job' that would be great, eh? We could just train up some young people (as they need the work) with their question toolkit, and they could be our coaches. The premise of any question holding power is a false one.... questions only hold power or utility in the right context. It is the coaches experience, knowledge, skill, being present in the moment, making choices and reflecting in action that make questions fly or fail, no?
25/3/2014 06:23:01 am
Rob, I agree with almost all that you say, but you sound as if you think your approach is at odds with Nick's. I would suggest that there is a 'killer question' toolkit that can be used when the context demands. In other words, integrating your approach to Nick's rather than seeing things as an either/or dichotomy.
25/3/2014 06:24:43 am
Hi Mark - it sounds like I'm at odds with this approach (not Nick himself, of course!), because I think I am.
25/3/2014 02:04:48 pm
Rob, I'm with you. My coach mentor once said to me that the best question is one you only ever use once - with that client. Because it is only relevant to them, in that moment, using their words. That was a really powerful light bulb for me.
25/3/2014 06:23:45 am
Actually, I think these 3 questions distill the essence of what we can offer as coaches. Whether we phrase them differently, whether we change the order or when we ask them, ultimately, we are asking clients to reflect on the situation they find themselves in and identify a way forward.
25/3/2014 06:30:35 am
Interesting article. I do love the old, 'if you did know the answer, what would it be?' ;)
25/3/2014 01:52:18 pm
Very nice post Nick, thanks for sharing.
27/3/2014 01:57:39 am
Hi Ger and thanks for the note. Yes, I find 'inviting' important too. It avoids the client feeling forced and creates freedom of movement and connection within what sometimes feels like a creative dance. Thanks for sharing the video. Having spent some time in Germany, it made me smile! :) Nick
27/3/2014 01:50:25 am
Hi Shirley. I really like that question. It stimulates the client's own insight and creativity. It reminds me of similar paradoxical questions in Gestalt coaching such as, 'What are you not noticing?' With best wishes. Nick
25/3/2014 02:53:34 pm
Whilst the very best question may be one that you only ever use once, I would challenge any coach to only ever use any question once! In reality we all have 'favourite' questions - ones that work well if used at the right time. Even if we adjust the phrasing for different clients they are, essentially, the same question. Jenny Rogers refers to them as 'magic' questions.
26/3/2014 07:14:47 am
Nice article Nick. Thanks.
26/3/2014 10:11:06 am
First, I read lots of closed end questions. I seldom use.
27/3/2014 01:42:52 am
1. HOW are you?
Rosalind Spigel MSOD
27/3/2014 01:44:00 am
"What is your life for?"
27/3/2014 01:44:44 am
My top three questions that I LOVE hearing the answers to are:
27/3/2014 03:22:30 am
Where do I send the invoice?
27/3/2014 03:23:14 am
Haha, Barry - love it! :)
Edwina Love Lawrence
27/3/2014 04:36:31 am
27/3/2014 04:37:40 am
This might sound completely unfocused, but when there are lots of issues coming out and I'm feeling confused it's often a sign that the coachee is too. So I ask the question: 'That's interesting, tell me more about that.' I find that what is the most prominent or figure issue them starts to emerge.
27/3/2014 07:52:22 am
Thank you Nick. Very useful. What your contribution to what you are experiencing is a favorite of mine. Its easy to distance yourself, think of yourself as only being on the receiving end, rather than turn it around and think about how you can affect it.
27/3/2014 08:57:32 am
I love - 'what determines what shoes you buy'? It's a lovely start to a coaching session and it's not what someone's expecting at all. It tells me huge amounts about who i'm working with. Try it, look at your shoes and answer the question. It's pretty revealing...
27/3/2014 08:58:38 am
Teresa, They need to be functional, go with many different pairs of trousers and don't show dirt to easily.
Simon King MCIPD
28/3/2014 01:59:15 am
Nick, I have always been a big fan of the 'on a scale of 1-10' question swiftly followed up by the 'what would it take ...' intervention. Here are some ideas for other questions:
28/3/2014 03:21:00 am
I love your three questions, Nick.
Art Alvarez MS SPHR
28/3/2014 08:20:46 am
Great article: I think that as coaches we need to ask more open ended question that help people/teams come to conclusions themselves. My experience has been that the more I force a response or provide "the answer" the more the person/team pushes back.
P J Larsen
1/4/2014 02:53:35 am
I like this, too.
1/4/2014 03:05:47 am
Well done, Nick! 3 simple yet powerful questions, well illustrated.
1/4/2014 03:06:23 am
As my friend Ioan always says: the best question is to listen, and th best answer is "I don't know".
3/4/2014 06:36:08 am
I love these questions, and the overall sequence. Thanks for sharing. One of my favorites is, "What would you like more of...?"
4/4/2014 06:11:58 am
This is a very interesting article, thanks for sharing. One of my favourite question's is "what are you ignoring?"
4/4/2014 06:42:58 am
Great post. It's insightful to learn about the preferred questions others use... one of my favourite questions would be "If you knew you couldn't fail, what would you do?"
4/4/2014 12:48:17 pm
Thank you for the thought provoking article, Nick. I love this topic.
11/4/2014 08:27:52 am
The more specific the coaching purpose the more creative the questions may become.
14/4/2014 04:55:12 am
Interesting thread - thanks for the great questions, Nick. The best coaching questions are the ones that inspire the person to take ownership of the issue.
23/4/2014 10:00:12 am
How do you think? Many people make decisions, plan or strategize but don't really 'think' or understand how they think - it is useful to develop people's thinking skills. It's old now but De Bono's work is very useful.
25/4/2014 08:15:59 am
'What would you like to drink?'
27/4/2014 07:42:31 am
Hi Nick, some great questions. I also have a bank of questions that I use when coaching 1 on 1. One of my first is "What do you need from this session today"? often the responses I get are very different to what I had in mind so allows me to re-frame and align our expectations. I also feel the scaling questions that you have mentioned can be extremely effective, they work really well for a highly visual person when you can actually draw a quick scale and ask them to take the pen and show where they are now, then ask what it looks like to be a higher number. The "Miracle" question is similar when you ask "if you were to wake up tomorrow and everything was perfect, what does that look like?" It often creates interesting discussions. As a behavioral coach I feel it is crucial to have a multitude of questions within our toolkit but having a few favorites that almost always creates quality conversations is very handy. Thanks for sharing :-)
29/4/2014 10:43:09 am
What is not working for you?
1/5/2014 04:10:59 am
What is going well for you?
Anne Vibeke Friis Nielsen
18/5/2014 05:18:52 am
What are you doing right now?
18/5/2014 05:30:29 am
Why do we do what we are doing now?
Razi Ghaemmagham Farahani
19/5/2014 03:35:15 am
21/5/2014 01:33:11 pm
Perhaps there are endless numbers of questions, even those with no clear answers.
Amazing questions Nick!
30/3/2023 06:47:52 am
This blog provides a great insight into the power of coaching questions and how they can be used to help us reach our goals. The examples provided are extremely useful and the tips for making the most of our questions are invaluable. I appreciate the effort put into this helpful and informative post.
Leave a Reply.
I'm a psychological coach, trainer and OD consultant. Curious to discover how can I help you? Get in touch!
Like what you read? Simply enter your email address below to receive regular blog updates!