Ask a good coaching question and you are half way to helping someone generate an insight. And as it is these insights that make coaching so effective, being able to ask a great question is vital to your leadership.
Through my five years of coaching, I have a few coaching questions I come back to time and time again. In this blog I share them with you.
1. If you were to rate this on a scale of 1-10 where would it be?
This one works because it helps you (and them) to see how big of a deal this is. It also helps you conceptualise how much progress they are aiming for. For example, whilst it might be unwise to aim to go from a 1 to a 10 in a month, going from a 1 to a 4 in a month may be doable. You can then discuss what this would look like. It takes it from the too-hard basket into the "hell yeah" basket.
2. What does success look like?
This question is great because it takes their mind off the problem and onto the solution. It really gets people to think about the specifics of what they are trying to do. It can help to weed out things that seem important but are actually just distractions from what is important for success.
3. If you already knew what to do, what would it be?
Often I ask this question when someone says "I don't know" - I will shoot back, "well if you did know, what would it look like?". This encourages people to think outside of the barriers that they have erected - get their imagination involved and explore what a possible solution could be.
4. What would you advise me to do?
This is a great question when someone is stuck. Or perhaps they know the answer but something is holding them back. You are essentially asking them to swap roles with you for a short time, and ask them to give you advice as if you were in that situation. It is astonishing when this happens how clear the answer is. This often precedes an a-ha moment because they have effectively answered the question they have been battling with.
5. Is there any reason you can't take action on this?
This is a little bit more of a closed question, however designed to elicit a commitment to get going. I often use this question when winding up the coaching conversation to ensure that people have worked through anything that may get in their way to taking the actions they need to.
6. What does done look like?
I learnt this question from a friend and mentor in the software space. As you know, when building software defining what "done" looks like is incredibly important as scope creep can set in. It can also help when someone is battling through a project or mired in detail. It can help them gain some clarity as to what is actually important and what can be put to one side.
7. How have you handled situations like this in the past?
People sometimes forget that they have dealt with similar situations in the past, and have skills, attributes and resources that they can bring to bear on the dilemma in front of them. People also have a tendency to think only in the context that they are currently in - for example many people think things they have done in the home arena don't transfer to work. The reality of course is that if you have, for example, coached a team, then you have experience in dealing with conflict, motivating people towards a goal and getting the best out of people. Sometimes people just need a little reminder that they have done things like this before.
8. What have you already tried? And what else could you try?
It is helpful to encourage people to talk about what they have already tried. And then ask them to think about what other things they could try in this area. Even if they start running out of ideas, keep going asking what else they could try until you have a couple of new ideas that they have generated.
9. What are you really trying to achieve here?
I find this one particularly good when coaching leaders on dealing with their staff members. Often what someone tells you they are trying to achieve isn't what they are actually trying to achieve. So this question warrants some good clarification so that you can help them see if there are any other things they want to achieve that aren't immediately apparent.
10. How would [insert name here] solve this?
Whether it's Google, your mother, your boss, your kids, the bank, or you ten years ago, it doesn't matter. What matters is changing the context to encourage new ways of thinking. It is amazing what new insights come out from thinking how other people or organisations might approach a dilemma.
Of course there are many other coaching questions, but if you are looking for a good list to get you started, I recommend these. Why not print them out, put them by your desk for your next coaching conversation.