The 5 Questions to ask when you Freeze & Don't Know What to Say Next! (with .PDF)

Never Get Stuck in a Coaching Session Again!

It's happened to us all, especially when starting out: we freeze in a coaching session and literally can't think what to ask or say next. The great thing in coaching of course is that we don't have to know what to say next - in fact it's often better if we don't...

Go straight to the .PDF here >>

 When we think of stress we usually think of the "Fight" or "Flight" response, but "Freeze" is just as common. And in my early days of coaching I used to freeze quite a bit - where I got stuck in a coaching session and couldn't think what to ask next. I was so concerned about delivering value and being a great coach that I often created the very situation I feared most.

And then I would make the situation worse by judging myself and beat myself up for my 'failure' to stay on top of the session.

If it makes you feel any better, I can guarantee that that moment of panic - when you have no idea what to ask or which direction to head in - has happened to every single coach out there. In fact it's probably happening to someone right now.

So I developed a strategy to get me through those moments when I froze. If the whole point of coaching is that the client knows what's right for them, why was I trying so hard? If they have the answers, doesn't it make sense they might know some of the questions too?

The strategy? Get the CLIENT to tell you what to ask next!

So, here are 5 powerful catch-all questions to get you moving:

  1. What would be the best question I could ask you now?  (first, this implies that there are many questions available, and asks your client to suggest the BEST one!)
  2. If you secretly knew the way forward from here, what would it be?  (this question assumes there is already a way forward AND that they already know it! ***Use only with good rapport so your client feels supported - and not irritated by the question)
  3. If you were coaching yourself, what question would you ask now?  (gets them into a coaching frame of mind to find a powerful question! And by asking your client to put their coaching hat on, you may get a surprisingly insightful question)
  4. What question do YOU think I should ask you now?  (a constructive use of the word "should", cutting through all 'the fluff' to the question you SHOULD ask to move them forwards!)
  5. I don't know where to go next with this. Where would you go?  (sometimes honesty is the best policy! Ask confidently - and know that by asking this question, you're also modelling a healthy willingness to be imperfect - and letting them be the expert too!)

Watch out for: It's easy to make the situation worse when we freeze by judging ourselves and letting our inner critic beat us up for our 'failure' to stay on top of the session. This only creates a vicious circle where we take ourselves even further away from dancing in the moment with our client!

"Feel Stuck? Relax! Trust the client, trust YOURSELF and trust the Coaching PROCESS!" Emma-Louise Elsey

The Trick: Is to take a deep breath and ask a question which asks the client to show you the next steps. This is about trusting the coaching process - and trusting your client to know what's best for them!

Feeling really brave? Here's another idea:

The simplest and also the most challenging strategy is ironically... more silence.

Simply wait for your client to speak again. Take a deep breath, feel your feet on the floor and trust that your client knows what to say next.

It takes a lot of guts when you're already panicking to give the client more silence. It means sitting with and allowing the discomfort of NOT knowing. But if you lean in to the silence and your discomfort, real coaching magic can happen.

And it may not happen too! If after this extended pause your client pipes up and says, "Are you still there?" (which has happened to me on more than one occasion) you can simply say, "I was waiting to see where you would take this next." Then, like me you'll quickly learn that your client didn't think you were a terrible coach. And you'll learn that the world does not end simply because you don't have the all the answers - or indeed the right questions.

And once you've had a few of these experiences you'll realise you can handle anything. What a beautiful place to be!

Next Steps

I recommend that you take the 5 questions above and write or print them out on a piece of card, add the word SILENCE to the top, and stick it somewhere you can easily see when you're coaching a client.


Simply click the .PDF I created below to Open, and then Save or Print:



Click to save the .PDF version to your computer!

If I've done my job well, you're now feeling inspired and keen for that next moment when you freeze - so that you can try these strategies out!

Have any tips of your own for this situation? Share with your fellow coaches by commenting below.

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If you liked this, for more coaching questions you'll love:

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 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 for coaches, plus 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 painting themselves into a corner by Blend Images via Shutterstock


  1. Travis K. Brewer

    Good questions. I have used question 3, If you were coaching yourself...Not only does it buy me time, but it also educates my coachees. It helps them think from a coaching point of view. One of the things I try to do is to give my coachees some tools they can use to grow as a leader. Thanks for sharing.

    • elelsey

      Thanks Travis! I really am loving this blogging/sharing! And very true - it's great to get people into that coaching point of view - in fact that's a skill that if we help our clients develop they won't need us (so much) anymore... Which ultimately is a good thing!

  2. Maryanne Peluso

    Hi, I am a new Christian Life Coach and I don't have any clients yet. I have tried online and print advertising and marketing and still nothing yet. Someone suggested that I offer my "Fans" on my Company's Facebook Page - a chance to experience Life Coaching as a Group. In other words, to offer some Life Coaching Sessions in a Group. This can be done over the phone using one of those free Teleconferencing sites, etc. My question is - how do I even go about Coaching in a Group setting? I am a Certified Life Breakthrough Coach so I have some training but my training was geared to coaching privately - with clients on a one-to-one basis - so how do I now take what I already learned and coach a Group of people? Any ideas or suggestions or free Resources out there to help me Create or Plan a Program for my Group Coaching Sessions? I'd appreciate anything you might have to offer me. Thanks so much for your time and God Bless!

  3. Tripti

    Thank you, Emma, for a very helpful post! I will definitely try these questions out. Although it's not happened in reality as I am in training right now, I tried one of these questions while practicing the mock session and the person replied, "Well, I don't know, that's why I am here!".
    I experienced the embarrassment. How can we deal with such scenarios? Thank you.

    • Emma-Louise

      Dear Tripti, thank-you for your comment - and glad you like the post!

      First, CONGRATULATIONS for trying something new out and being prepared to be embarrassed in service of the client! And second, you have nothing to be embarrassed about! It's not your job to ask the PERFECT question, or to always ask a question that hits home - your job is "merely" to help the client move forwards as best you can. As no-one is perfect, there will ALWAYS be questions that DON'T land well. If you are ALWAYS asking questions that land well with the client, you're not taking risks - and may be playing it too safe...

      So, I am guessing you used "If you secretly knew the way forward from here, what would it be?"

      If so, this is a question to use carefully - and as it says - only with good rapport. It's therefore not a great question to use in an initial session - as it's unlikely you'll have built a great rapport yet. In other words, once they have got used to you coaching them, challenging them, asking them odd questions and turning the question back to them (as they have the answers not us!), that is a better time to ask this question.

      ALSO, the emphasis is on the word SECRETLY. If they SECRETLY knew...
      And then they still might say, "That's what I've come to you for!"

      Here are some ideas for what you could have said (it's always easier with hindsight):

      1. "Often people know what they need to do on some level, but it's difficult, scary or challenging, so instead they do nothing. Do you know what you WANT - even if you don't know how to get there?"
      2. "Well, I am glad you are here, and we will work on this together. What do you know about this situation right now?"
      3. "Often we say we don't know, but a part of us DOES know. Is there a part of you that knows something?"
      4. OR

      5. "OK, so let's start by getting really clear on what you WANT. Could you describe where you want to be (in as much detail as possible)?"

      I hope that has given you some ideas! Be proud that you tried something new!

      Warmly, Emma-Louise


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