Research Paper By Judith A. Levy
(Transformational Coaching, USA)
If the good, the bad and the ugly sounds familiar to you, you may remember that there was an Epic Spaghetti Western Film directed by Sergio Leon with actors Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, and Eli Wallach with this title. This article is not about the similarities between this movie and coaching questions. It is about the similarities between coaching questions and the title of this movie…
As a new coach, when I thought about Coaching Questions, this title came to mind; it became apparent to me early on in my training that the questions you ask a client and the “place from which you ask them” is vitally important to the potential progress of the client. From my perspective, coaching questions seem to fall into three categories; the really productive questions, the questions that shut the client down and the then there are questions that can actually be damaging to the client. Hence, THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY!
In Coaching it is believed that the client has every answer they need inside their body/mind to move forward with their goals and intentions. This pertains to answers regarding business, life or relationships. As a seasoned Certified Energy Practitioner I can tell you that this belief is shared in Energy Modalities such as Thought Field Therapy and Emotional Freedom Technique as well as many Psychological Modalities such as EMDR and Brainspotting. The way to help a client access that information varies for each approach mentioned above. In coaching one of the most important variables in the client being able to access that internal knowing is through the coach asking powerful questions.
What are powerful questions?
When a coach asks a client a powerful question the coach is creating a way for the client to explore their deep inner knowing or awareness. They are questions that require the client to think and feel at a level that is more holistic than is required with a yes or no answer. PQ are questions that allow the client to be creative and find answers that are aligned with their goals and intentions and I feel that are aligned with their souls purpose (or life direction).
In the book CoActive Coaching Henry Kinsey and others defines a powerful question this way; “A powerful question evokes clarity, action, discovery, insight and commitment. It creates greater possibility, new learning, or clearer vision. Powerful questions are open-ended questions that do not elicit a yes or no response. They are derived from holding a clients agenda and either forwarding the clients action or deepening his or her learning.”
Here are some examples of powerful questions taken from www.coachingtoolscompany.com
- “What do you want more of in your life? What excites and inspires you?”
- “In response to an “I don’t know answer”, ask, what is it like for you to not know?” Then, “just feel into the question for a minute.”
- “What is your favorite way of sabotaging yourself in life?” “Mine is ( ) what’s yours?”
I have learned that powerful questions can come from different places– From what I can tell so far, the MOST powerful question comes from the client! What? I will explain;
In the book CoActive Coaching the author discusses three levels of listening. Level I is when the coach listens to “their own” thoughts, judgments and opinions about the client’s story. Level II listening is when the coach does listen to what the client is wanting and intending. Meaning that the coach listens and attends to what the client is saying and to what their intentions and desires are. They refer to level III as global listening. My experience of global listening is when I can not only focus fully on the clients agenda but also “hear and see” what they are saying with their body/ energy, their emotions and their eyes and what they are not saying as well. At times clients say one thing AND you can feel an opposing emotion or see an expression that does not match their words. When I am fully attuned to the client in a global way, the questions that come really do come from what the client is saying.
By “BAD” I mean less than effective—we can learn from questions that are not productive when coaching our clients, even when those questions do not help the client move forward. All coaches continue to grow in skill and hopefully internally as they increase their abilities in developing structure within a question. An effective coach also works at developing and trusting their intuition as well as learns how to help the client gain awareness without giving advice or asking questions, from a place of curiosity. As mentioned above, In ICA we talk a lot about open ended questions (see THE GOOD) and we also talk about closed questions. Closed questions tend to shut the client down, doing the opposite of open ended questions. Instead of creating awareness and creativity, closed questions can keep a client stuck!
In the book Coaching Questions, by Tony Stoltzfus the author refers to several more kinds of coaching questions that he refers to as “The Top Ten Asking Mistakes”. Here are a few of those “asking mistakes” (and I am paraphrasing the explanation of each);
Seeking the One True Question: This type of question happens when the coach focuses on searching, in their mind, for that one perfect question! The solution for avoiding this mistake is to trust the process and ask simple questions like “Do you want to tell me more about that” or “What’s going on there”
Rambling Questions: A rambling question is when the coach asks the same question four different ways or asks several questions at one time. The client does not know how or what to answer and in what order?? This impacts the flow of the conversation and the client’s ability to look at one thing at a time. Stoltzfus says there are two reasons why coaches ask questions that ramble. One reason is that they have not fully formulated the question before they ask it and sort of free associate as they are formulating the question in their mind. He suggests taking the time to finish thinking up the question before asking the question. Another cause for a coach rambling is that she may be overly concerned that the client fully grasps the question being asked. This can occur when we as coach are bringing our own agenda and so we are trying to lead our client. I will add from experience that the rambling question can come when a coach is taking responsibility for the client “understanding”, not giving the client credit for being able to ask if they do not understand.
Solution Oriented Questions: This type of question is a closed question. It is a question with a solution attached to it. Here are a couple SOQs from the book Coaching Question. It involves asking a question and giving an answer at the same time! I believe this happens more often when the coach is not in a level II or level III listening mode—when the coach is more focused on their own thoughts than the clients words.
- “Could you do your jogging with your wife?”
- “Can you give her the benefit of the doubt on this one?”
Integrative Questions: When a coach is putting meaning to what a client says, they are asking an interpretive question. For example a client says “I am not comfortable seeing Bob at the meeting today” The coach says “For how long have you not liked Bob”. The coach does not yet know that the client does not like Bob
Neglecting to Interrupt: Tony Stoltzfus writes in his book that we as coaches are at times responsible to interrupt our clients; “Part of our job as coaches is managing the conversation” he writes. For clients who tend to go on for several minutes every time an open question is asked, it can be a good idea to get their permission I think, before the session, to interrupt if they are getting off track.
Interrupting: “Too much irrelevant detail slows progress and blurs progress” says Stoltfus It is important for a coach to be able to interrupt gentle and give the client the choice to move back to their intended goal or intention for the session.
This kind of question or this way of asking questions can cause shame and embarrassment in the client. If that happens the trust in the relationship is likely impacted and progress can be halted completely. The coaching relationship is the most important foundational piece for the client to have success and the relationship needs to be held sacred at all times.
If a coach asks the question “Why did you that” and the question and is asked from the perspective that the coach thinks the client “should not have done that”, this can be UGLY. This type of problem can arise if the coach is focused on thinking they have the solution or the answer. If on the other hand the coach asks “tell me more about why you did that” with true curiosity and for the purpose of gathering information to help the client achieve their intended goal, not so ugly!
Another example: When the coach has a judgment that the client is wrong or behaving badly and asks the question “what are you doing, the client can feel they have done something wrong and shame can be present for the client. If the coach asks “what do you think the outcome of that choice will be” because the coach is inviting the client to check in with awareness, this can open up possible shifts should the client want to shift.
In the book Change Your Questions, Change your Life Marilee Adams talks about being the Judger or being the Learner. We are being a Learner when we stay curious, balanced and connected to the client’s agenda. We are being a Judger then, when we bring our own agenda, our own opinion or when we think WE have the solutions.
One quote in Marilee’s book that stood out to me as a coach is “Any attention you give to Judger isn’t available to give to learner” It would be difficult then to ask a powerful question from a place of judgment. This could not possibly help the client get in touch with THEIR internal knowing as the energy of the question is coming from the coach’s negative judgment and they could not in that moment is caring for the client.
Marilee also talks about how as a coach we are in Learner or Judger mode with ourselves as well. When we lack confidence, are not trusting our gut or are thinking we are “in control” of the session, we are in Judger mode and not Learner mode. This takes me back the importance of listening to the client completely from all aspects of the client (body mind soul spirit). From this curious, open place, it is “GOOD” and beautiful forward movement can happen. Judgment and criticism can only end up being UGLY.
If you are a coach and if you are wanting to improve your skills regarding the questions you ask, I think the following are important points to remember.
- Do no harm: Whatever questions you ask must come first from a place of caring and letting the client lead.
- It is important to be rested, well nourished and balanced in order to focus on the client fully.
- Pay attention to all of the ways your client is communicating before you ask questions. Clients at times give information energetically, with their body and with their eyes that is contradictory to their words.
- Always work at staying curious and not judgmental so that your questions will be client centered. It is important for the coach to do their own internal work as necessary when an internal issue is getting in the way of focusing on the client in a non judgmental way.
- As a coach I hope to always be willing to grow and evolve in my work.
Co-Active Coaching, Henry Kimsey-House, Karen Kimsey-House, Phillip Sandahl and Laura Whitworth
Change Your Questions Change Your Life , Marilee Adams
Coaching Questions, Tony Stoltfus
Life Coaching Activities & Powerful Questions, Phyllis Reardon