The Magic of Questions

Have you ever walked away from a coaching session and said to yourself, “That could have better.” While there are many factors that comprise a successful coaching session, the real magic is in the questions you ask.

The main ingredient in magical questions is the open-ended question. What are open-ended questions? (Hint: the preceding is one)

Questions that begin with the words:

“Why” is also a lead to an open-ended question but I don’t usually use it. Using “why” can make the session feel more like an interrogation. For example, “Why did you slouch in your chair during the client meeting?” sounds more accusatory than helpful exploring. This may lead to a less productive meeting . Instead, use the following suggestions to encourage discussion.

In the above example of “Why did you slouch in your chair…”, asking, “What did you think of the client meeting?” is a non-accusatory invitation for input.

If you want to be more direct, “I noticed you slouched in your chair during the meeting. (Stating the fact) What impression do you think that gave the client?”

There are other ways to invite discussion without it being a question. These discussion invitations start with phrases such as:

-Tell me about…
-Explain for me…
-Show me…

Open-ended questions and discussion invitations are putting the onus of discovery on the other person. If the other person has to state the issue and the solution then they “own” that solution. Meaning: they understand the issue and what he or she needs to do to fix it.

Caryn Colgan Business Consultant
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In the above example, if they sloucher states that slouching during the client meeting looked unprofessional then your next questions might be, “What does professional behavior look like?” and “What are you willing to do to be more professional moving forward?”

“What are you willing to do differently?” or some version of this question is a superb way to begin wrapping up the session.

This is getting them to state the obvious but you are urging them to:

-Realize their behavior was unprofessional
-Identify the desired behavior
-Commit to change

If you tell the coachee these items you have has less impact than asking the right questions that get her or him to say it. Telling is the least effective coaching style when you want lasting change. However, in working with hundreds of managers, this is the most often used style. Ask open-ended questions and you will discover the magic of great coaching.

Hint: When going for commitment fro during a coaching session never accept an answer that includes the word, “try” in it. (Spoiler alert: there will be an article on “try” in the future.)