Coaching is an important part of our role as a leader, and to do it well requires that we engage the person we are coaching in the conversation. After all, it is their behavior and outcomes we are talking about. One of the best things we can do as a coach then, is ask more questions. If we ask more questions, not as an accuser or so people feel like they a facing a firing squad of questions, we will stimulate conversation and engagement in the coaching process.
What follows are ten questions to put in your toolkit. You will find them to be useful in many situations. Read them, and use them. Your team members will thank you.
1. How are things going? This is a great way to start a coaching conversation, especially an informal one.
2. What’s working/going well? This can be asked as is, or connected to a specific situation; “What’s going well on the project?”
3. Where are you stuck? When asked in an open, curious way, this is a safe way for people to begin to share their challenges.
4. Now what? One of my favorite questions, used to move from where we are towards what we have learned, or next steps.
5. How are you feeling? Usually best when connected to the situation. “How are you feeling about…?” Some people are afraid to ask the question about emotions, but it is important. You can replace feeling with thinking, but they are two different questions.
6. When will you try that? This is a question not of challenge, but of implementation – to move people towards action.
7. What’s your goal? This helps you understand their goal, or uncover when it is unclear, and might require further conversation.
8. What is in your way? The obstacle question is a good one. You may not see the obstacles they see, so this is an important perspective-sharing question.
9. What is exciting you? This is another question dealing with emotions; it is valuable because it helps people build their internal motivation to move forward.
10. What is worrying you? Emotions on the other side of the coin. When we are worrying, we may become overly tentative or even frozen, taking no action. As a coach, when we can help people talk about and identify this, then we can help them move past the worries and concerns.
Two bonus questions . . . Because ten isn’t enough, and these are special-purpose questions.
1. How can I help? The other questions may uncover how you can help, but asking this question implies that you want to help, and that you are a partner in helping people succeed.
2. What else? The favorite question of my friend and colleague, Michael Bungay Stanier. This question extends the conversation and invites the person being coached to share more, and often to begin to discover answers for themselves.
These questions are each from 2-5 words long – they aren’t hard to ask or hard to remember, but they create better coaching relationships and better coaching results.
Of course, the questions alone aren’t enough – you must ask them with the intention to engage; you must want to hear their answers; and your tone must be effective too. Given those caveats, now you have some questions to apply in a variety of situations to make you a more effective and confident coach.