There are 2 key skills that coaches need to be truly effective, the ability to listen (often for what is missing rather than what is said) and the ability to ask the right question at the right time.
Now in reality there are no 'right' questions, there are however some very good, and fairly generic questions that when asked which can make a significant difference to the way in which a coaching interaction progresses.
Q1. What would be better than X?
Often a coaching conversation will focus on a particular clients problem where they will focus on something that they want to change in their current situation and the client may spend a great deal of time discussing how terrible the world is for this injustice etc. One of the key tasks of a coach is to help a client identify opportunities that they wouldn't necessarily see themselves. The 'What would be better than X?' question pulls the client out of a reflective mode into a more solution oriented position. There is one thing to be aware of with this and that is a response from the client along the lines 'For X not to happen', this is avoidance rather than a solution and you can follow up with 'What would be better than the absence of X?' You can keep asking this question over and over until you have a range of possibilities from good to great.
Q2. What can YOU do to get this to happen?
Coaching is about getting the client to take ownership and for them to do things themselves. Coaching isn't about helping it is about supporting and guiding and it is all too easy (especially for managers who are coaching) to take on the problems of the client as theirs to solve. To be an effective coach the client has to come to the solution on their own and has to take ownership of what they want. The 'What can YOU do to get this to happen?' pushes the coaching client to think about their interactions and how they are the responsible party. Remember you are there to expand the choices available so as a coach you need to ensure that the individual avoids the 'not my fault' trap. Ownership is key here.
Q3. If you did/got Y how would this impact A, B and C?
Sometimes a solution will present itself and the client will latch on to a solution without thinking it through, and it is unlikely that their circumstances will be the same as yours so you will not have the answers to this question and don't assume that the client will have thought of any of the wider ramifications of their solution. The A, B and C can be anything examples include Family, Finances, Career Progression, Lifestyle, Colleagues, Employer etc. This is an ecology check question and it is important for the client to understand that any decision they make on any subject will impact many people.
Q4. What would you lose by doing/getting Y?
There will be some form of loss with any decision and recognising it that is an important step in the decision making process. Often it is the fear of loss (rather than the loss itself) that holds us locked in position when in reality we can usually overcome most things in life if we know about them in advance and more importantly put them into perspective. Don't be fobbed off with a 'nothing' answer, this just shows that the client isn't thinking things through and needs more prodding. If you get stuck here you can offer a few examples, but do so as a last resort as the client will likely jump on one of your suggestions without thinking about their own situation.
Q5. When will you do this?
Perhaps the most important question and listen carefully for the answer, especially for the silent 'but'. Often a client will seem enthusiastic in the coaching session and the moment they are back into the real world their resolve falters and they go back to the same old patterns of behaviour. If a client appears enthusiastic and they want to take rapid action then great, excellent progress at which point you schedule a follow up call for sometime within the next week to see how they got on?it creates momentum.
Remember these are just guidance questions and will need to be tailored for each coaching interaction but when used they can make a significant difference in moving a coaching client towards their outcomes.
To be effective as a coach questioning is just part of the equation and listening, really listening to the answers is actually more important not only for what information is contained within the answers but also for the bits left out.
Use these questions in your next coaching interaction and just notice what changes, you won't be disappointed.
More information regarding Organisational Change, Coaching and Performance Development can be found at http://www.achievinggreatness.co.uk
2005 ? Achieving Greatness Ltd. All rights reserved.
PERMISSION TO REPUBLISH: This article may be republished provided attribution is provided to the author, and it appears with the included copyright, resource box and live web site link.
L Stuart Avery is the Managing Director of Achieving Greatness Ltd, an organisation dedicated to raising awareness around personal and management behaviours. Achieving Greatness specialises in offering advice and support to organisations going through change intitiatives and looking to enhance the performance of their staff. It provides training courses, facilitiation services and coaching to business leaders on Leadership, Management and Strategy.
Stuart has over 20 years of experience across a wide range of industries including Government, Charities, Retail, Travel, Insurance, IT Services and Logistics.
For more information visit http://www.achievinggreatness.co.uk