Why Coaching Questions are so Important! (with 53 great examples) | by Emma-Louise

Coach asking Coaching Questions at Desk with Laptop

 

Table of Contents

In this Coaching Questions article you will find:

Introduction

This article explores why coaching questions are so important, different ways questions can be used and looks at how questions fit into the coaching relationship. Also, throughout this article, look for the lists of coaching questions to enjoy and play with, inspiring quotes and links to free coaching question tools.

The Purpose of Coaching Questions

Coaching is not psychology or therapy, it's learning. Dr Marcia Reynolds

Asking Questions is a Key Coaching Skill

The purpose of coaching questions is simply this: to help our clients learn and grow.

In every coaching session, we're building a relationship. We want our clients to feel heard and understood, supported and encouraged. We want them to get to know and trust themselves—and then act in alignment with who they are.

So we listen, reflect back and help them get the all-important helicopter view on their behaviour and their lives. We help them dream, envision, set goals, brainstorm and plan actions. And we also hold them accountable and help them see—and be—the best version of themselves.

And what underpins all of these activities? The coaching questions we ask.

Coach holding cellphone asing coaching questions at desk

Why is Asking Questions so Important in Coaching?

Every coaching school and coaching association references asking powerful questions as a key coaching skill, competency or proficiency.

That's because it's our coaching questions that help our clients figure out what they want and why. It's our questions that help people identify solutions: how to get there, what they'll do—and when. And coaching questions also raise awareness about who we are, what matters, where we get in our own way and how we could be—and do—better.

Every man ought to be inquisitive through every hour of his great adventure down to the day when he shall no longer cast a shadow in the sun. For if he dies without a question in his heart, what excuse is there for his continuance? Frank Moore Colby

Here are 9 Coaching Questions to Get Started with a New Client

  1. What are you most excited about now?
  2. What's bothering you the most right now?
  3. What are you looking forward to?
  4. What's one way to get more energy into your life?
  5. For your life to be perfect, what would have to change?
  6. If your _____ relationship was IDEAL, what one thing would be different (however big or small)?
  7. What would you like most to be acknowledged for so far in your life?
  8. How do you sabotage yourself?
  9. Why are you telling me this?

You may also like our Powerful Pondering Questions Tool which we recommend for new clients

But Great Coaching is not Just Asking Great Coaching Questions...

Being a great coach is not about the specific questions you ask, it's about asking questions that provoke insight and learning.

And that means it's about asking the right question, in the right way, at the right time. It's all about dancing in the moment—and giving our clients plenty of space and time to pause and reflect.

So remember:

More than anything, your clients need your full attention and presence. Don't get so hung up trying to think of "the perfect question" that you stop being present. Clients need you to notice their shifts and changes, their excitements and disappointments, their meaningful pauses and their avoidances.

As coaches we dance in the moment and let our questions and our silences lead our clients to great inner discoveries.

Questions Facilitate Learning

Think about it. People hire a coach because they want change—and haven't been able to do it alone.

So we use coaching questions to help. After all, most of us are just caught up in habitual ways of thinking, being and doing that stop us from seeing what's possible—and sometimes right in front of us.

The great value is not fixing, but helping them see better. Dr Marcia Reynolds

As coaches, it's our coaching questions that help people figure out what they want, and set meaningful and inspiring goals. But it's our relationship with the client, and the trust we build, that enables the client to be vulnerable and explore what they deeply, truly want, think and feel...

Here are 10 Questions to Help your Clients Set Meaningful Goals

  1. If you were to FULLY live your life, what is the first change you would start to make?
  2. What would a home run - in your life/career - look like this week?
  3. What are 3 things that would make a big difference in your life?
  4. What could we work towards together that would put a huge smile on your face?
  5. What would have happened in 3/6/12 months that means your life/career/business is doing better than you could have expected?
  6. Name three things you would love to do before you die.
  7. What do you want to accomplish this year?
  8. What do you want in the next 10 years of your life?
  9. If you were to look back 3 years from now, what must have happened?
  10. What's your dream for this lifetime?

Click here for a great free tool with 21 goal-setting questions

Questions are "Little Engines"

Coaching Questions Turning Cogs in Clients Mind

Uncertainty makes us uncomfortable. Human brains have evolved to get us back to the safety of certainty: is that just a shadow of a bush—or a marauding bear?

This is why we like clarity. And when we're unsure of the outcome, or can't find the answers we need, our brains can become a little obsessed. We can't relax until we know.

This means that when we ask a coaching question, it's like starting the engine on our clients' brains. Our question will start up the client's brain—and then the cogs will keep turning until it finds a satisfactory answer...

Here are 12 Coaching Questions to Help Your Clients Get Unstuck

  1. If you could solve this right now, would you?
  2. Is this your goal or someone else's? (Is this something, deep down, that you truly want?)
  3. What's the problem in a nutshell? In one sentence? In one word?
  4. What do you think you're afraid of?
  5. How specifically can I help you in these coaching sessions?
  6. What are you ready to change? And what are you NOT ready to change yet?
  7. How do you benefit by staying as/where you are? What's the pay-off?
  8. So, what happens if nothing changes?
  9. What resources or information do you need to help you make a decision?
  10. Think of someone successful you admire (get client to name them): What suggestions do they have for your situation?
  11. What would be the easiest, most doable next step? What's one change (however small) you could make that would move you closer to your goal?
  12. What are you willing to do in the next week? What could you commit to right now?

You may also like: 10 Powerful Coaching Questions to Unblock Your Clients!

Beyond Goal-Setting and Action Planning...

Coaching questions are used for much more than to help a client set goals and choose actions or next steps; we use questions throughout a coaching session.

This is because our clients are the expert in their lives—not the coach.

Here are 12 Different Ways Coaching Questions can be used

  1. Agree goals and outcomes 1) for a client's life, dreams and career and 2) for each coaching engagement and coaching session.
  2. Raise self-awareness. Increase your clients' self-knowledge and insight around their behaviours, habits, thoughts and beliefs etc.
  3. Uncover blocks and obstacles. This is a major part of coaching!
  4. Go deeper. Probing and getting to the source of an issue, belief or habit.
  5. Challenge a client's assumptions and expectations.
  6. Generate new perspectives—and/or reframe a situation.
  7. Offer time and space to help a client reflect, ponder and consider things they don't normally (get to) think about.
  8. Idea generation. To brainstorm, get creative and find alternative strategies, solutions and answers.
  9. Focusing and clarifying at every stage—goals, plans, actions, consequences, obstacles, alternatives and more.
  10. Confirm understanding. Clarify next steps.
  11. Increase motivation and commitment. Questions help a client understand why they want something, connect them to their values—and more!
  12. Make decisions.

Client brainstorming ideas at desk with laptop and notebook

Questions are a Wonderful Brainstorming Tool

One of my favourite ways to play with coaching questions is brainstorming—helping a client come up with as many ideas as possible.

The important thing is to get the brain beyond the 'usual suspects'—the ideas they've run over and over in their mind, but discarded or not acted upon yet for some reason.

During brainstorming we encourage our clients to think bigger, more broadly and to get out there and go wild with their ideas. In particular, it's important to get the client into a frame of "possiblity, not probability". From this state of mind, and with a nice big list of ideas we can surely get our clients to take one small step forwards...

Here are 15 Fun Coaching Questions to Brainstorm New Ideas

  1. What hasn't worked yet?
  2. What are some impossible ideas?
  3. So, think about a time when you've achieved something similar. What did you do?
  4. Let's think possibility not probability here. What could work, even though it seems unlikely?
  5. What could you do as the very first step towards meeting your goal?
  6. Lets imagine it's a year from now and you've accomplished your goal. What steps did you take to achieve it?
  7. Suppose, just for a moment, you live in a world where fear and anxiety do not exist. What could you do now?
  8. What could you do if you didn't care what other people thought?
  9. If you had a choice what would you do?
  10. What if you had all the time you needed? What could you do then?
  11. If you were rich beyond your wildest dreams how would you approach things differently?
  12. What could you do if you didn't have to live with the consequences? What might you do differently?
  13. I know you’re finished but would you just give me 3/5/7 more options?
  14. What else could you do? Good. And what else? (Keep repeating and remember to praise and appreciate options as they arise to encourage the client to continue coming up with ideas)
  15. Think of someone successful you admire, (get client to name them), what would they do in your position?

Check out our Free 37 Coaching Questions to Liberate Your Clients Tool

Questions—and the Purpose of Coaching

The goal of coaching is to get clients to stop and question the thoughts and behaviors that limit their perspective so they can see a new way forward to achieve their desires. Dr Marcia Reynolds

The coaching questions we ask help our clients make sense of their lives—and what they might want to be different. Whether it's reflecting back what our client said, offering space for a client to think more deeply or probing to get to the root of a limiting belief, it's our coaching questions that do the work.

As you've probably already noticed, there are also many ways to categorise coaching questions. And it's helpful to have a broad understanding of the types of questions that are most commonly used and when to use them.

Happy Client with laptop in light filled room

Here are 10 Types of Coaching Questions

  1. Open Questions invite possibility. They are broad, expansive and open up options, ideas and neural pathways for our clients.
  2. Closed Questions are used to narrow the focus. They help clients make decisions, get clarity and get specific.
  3. Reflective Questions help our clients look back, review and make sense of things they—and others—may have said or done. The goal is to raise awareness, help them learn and do better next time.
  4. Evaluative Questions help our clients understand themselves, their thought processes, values, knowledge, experiences and beliefs. They literally help our clients evaluate and consider why they think a certain way, what their opinion is, and how this may have come to be.
  5. The 5 Ws (plus an H). Sometimes called 'Special Questions', questions that start with Who, What, How, Where, When and Why? help people give a more detailed and specific response.
  6. Hypothetical Questions are a powerful way to expand our client's thinking and get them past limiting beliefs. We ask a client to imagine things could be different: What if _____? And then clients answer from that hypothetical place. "Magic Wand" questions are a great example of a hypothetical question.
  7. Inquiry Questions are broad and usually open questions, often offered as 'homework'. They give the client plenty of space to ponder, meditate on or journal around an issue or question more deeply.
  8. "And" Questions are a specific type of question we can use to break down a client's limiting beliefs. People often have an idea that if they do _____ it will limit them in some way. Or that something is not possible for them as long as they are doing _____. "And" questions help you get around this by asking What if _____ and _____? How you could you do _____ and still _____?
  9. Provocative Questions are anything that challenges your client—their limiting beliefs, excuses, judgements and prejudices etc. This is the heart of coaching! It's important that we're not afraid to ask these difficult questions that cut to the heart of the matter.

That is the essence of science: ask an impertinent question, and you are on the way to a pertinent answer. Jacob Bronowski

  1. Silence can BE a coaching question... After our client has said something interesting, instead of asking the next coaching question we can offer a generous and welcoming silence. This allows them to go deeper, say more, or even ask themselves the next question! TIP: Silence also doesn't mean we can't raise an eyebrow, smile encouragingly, look confused or surprised.

You may also like Why You Need to Embrace Silence in Your Coaching plus 6 Practices by Sarah Evans MCC

Coaching Questions Create Vision and Offer Perspective

Sometimes we're so busy living our lives that we can't see what we want, what needs to change or how we sabotage ourselves.

Coaching offers the environment for clients to think bigger and get perspective on their lives. And our coaching questions are what start the process!

The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure. Joseph Campbell

Here are 7 Coaching Questions to take the Helicopter View—and Get Perspective

  1. Looking ahead, what's your vision for the coming year? What do you think will be different and why?
  2. When you think about your goal, what are the outcomes you're looking for? How do you want your life to be different? How do you want to feel?
  3. What's your personal vision for the next 3/5/10 years?
  4. Let's imagine a year/2/3/5 years into the future. What would your ideal work situation be?
  5. If you had a magic wand, how would your life be different?
  6. If we were to take a helicopter view here for a moment, what do you need me to know?
  7. Imagine you're in a helicopter looking down on your life, what do you notice from way up there? Where are they currently headed? Where do they want to be headed? What else can they see?

Wrap-up

I hope you enjoyed this article exploring the importance of coaching questions!

There are naive questions, tedious questions, ill-phrased questions, questions put after inadequate self-criticism. But every question is a cry to understand the world. There is no such thing as a dumb question. Carl Sagan

What is Coaching without Coaching Questions?

Remember that the best coaching questions are provocative—evoking a curious, learning response that challenges the listener to go beyond their unconscious thought patterns and into somewhere new. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to ask yourself:

  • How can I ask better questions?

549 Powerful Coaching Questions FREE Ebook For more Coaching Questions Resources:

  1. Sign-up for our weekly newsletter for coaches and get our ever popular eBook 549 Powerful Coaching Questions.PDF
  2. Check out our Free Coaching Questions Resources Page
  3. See all our articles in the Coaching Questions Article Category
  4. Check out The 10 Most Powerful Coaching Questions (INFOGRAPHIC)
Emma-Louise Elsey Headshot

Contributing Author:

Emma-Louise Elsey has been coaching since 2003 and is the Founder of The Coaching Tools Company and Fierce Kindness.com. She's passionate about coaching and personal development. Originally a project and relationship manager for Fortune 500 companies she combined her love of coaching, creativity and systems to create over 100 brandable coaching tools, forms and exercises including 30+ completely free coaching tools. She now serves coaches and the coaching world through her exclusive newsletter for coaches, Coaches Helping Coaches Facebook Group and many other great tools, resources and ideas for your coaching toolbox. The Coaching Tools Company is an official ICF Business Solutions Partner.

Learn more about Emma-Louise & see all their articles here >>

Image of Coach at desk with laptop pondering coaching questions AND same coach at desk on phone by Prostock-studio via Shutterstock

Image of Client holding post-it with question mark and pointing finger learning by krakenimages via Kraken Images

Image of Two heads with cogs by Gordon Dylan Johnson via Openclipart

Image of Client or Coach at desk holding paper with large question mark by krakenimages via Kraken Images

Image of Coach in light-filled room with cushions in background by Gyorgy Barna via Shutterstock

4 Comments

  1. Sophie

    Hi team!
    What a great article! I was wondering if we were able to use your coaching questions on coaching tools word for word, and/or if you wanted to be acknowledged if we do use a set of questions for a "self-discovery" questionnaire, per example.
    Thanks for your amazing work, it is invaluable to a new coach!
    Soph

    Reply
    • Michela Phillips

      Hi Sophie,
      If you're planning on using the questions in this article with your clients, then go ahead and enjoy these questions.
      If you're putting them in a self-discovery tool for your clients, then this is OK too, as you'll be putting effort in to create something for your clients and undoubtedly tweaking a little.
      Lastly, the only area which gets a bit sticky is if you were selling a product with our questions in it (which I don't think you're talking about). Then you might want to change the questions enough so that you've definitely added your own unique stamp to them, and it feels like "your work".
      I hope that helps!
      - Kindly, Michela

      Reply
  2. Ed Nottingham, PhD, PCC

    This is fantastic and appreciate you and your weekly newsletters! And, LOVE the "549 Powerful Coaching Questions" you have shared in the past. Thanks for all you do to help us be better coaches and more "coach-like."

    Reply
    • Michela Phillips

      So glad you enjoy our newsletters and content! Happy to be here!
      - Kindly, Michela

      Reply

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