3 Ways to Make Your Coaching Questions More Powerful | By Kerryn Griffiths PhD

coach with lots of ideas using questioning model

The skill of questioning is crucial in coaching, as it is your questions that move clients into deeper and deeper levels of awareness. But what is it that makes a powerful question powerful? After all, a powerful question in one context can be an irrelevant question in another context.

Here are 3 pointers to keep in your awareness as you connect with your powerful questions:

1. The Power in a Powerful Question

Questions are the drivers of discovery in coaching conversations. Your questions embody your quality of curiosity and they invite your clients to probe, discover and expand their awareness.

The first indicator that you've just asked a powerful question is your client's reaction to stop or pause before answering. Your questions give your clients the opportunity to think—your questions trigger your clients' reflective process, and usually on new or less familiar aspects of themselves.

So the power in a powerful question lies in the degree to which your question triggers your clients' reflective process. With this in mind, the primary rule in questioning is one of asking questions which evoke reflection. It’s not about leading them to an insight or finding a solution. It's not about getting them to see something new. The reflective process takes care of this.

As a coach, you need to ensure you are asking questions that encourage deep reflection and then focus on trusting in and allowing the reflective process to guide both you and your client. Of course, once you ask the reflective question, you also need to leave enough space for the reflection to happen. Many coaches ask powerful questions, but fail to give their clients the space to engage in deep reflection—if you do that, you effectively lose power from the powerful question you just asked!

2. Don't be Fooled—a Powerful Question May Not be a Question at all!

While open questions usually encourage reflection more than closed questions, sometimes powerful questions may not be questions at all. Remembering that the power in a powerful question lies in the degree to which it encourages deep reflection, there are more coaching skills than just questions that do the job. Here are some examples:

  • a well timed pause
  • a single key word the client just said
  • the reflection of an unsaid emotion
  • an observation
  • a humorous comment
  • pictures
  • analogies
  • metaphors

The process of going deeper in a coaching conversation, although predominantly facilitated through powerful questions, is also achieved through other means. The point is that what is paramount is that you go deeper by triggering client reflection using whichever means.

On this note, remember that silence can be the most powerful 'question' of all. This is different to just leaving enough space for the client to reflect, as I highlighted above. A deliberate silence often happens when a client has just touched on something really deep. By holding the silence, and allowing the client to choose when to close it, and not asking another question until the client does so, the client really digs deep in reflection.

3. Get Out of Your Rut—Move Through a Spectrum of Questions

It's very easy to get into a questioning rut, but when you ask standard questions, you tend to get standard responses. There are many coaching frameworks or models out there, and they are well used as windows of discovery for your client. Your questions may progress through a framework, especially when you are new to coaching and still learning to hear and respond to the whole of who the client is. However, the greatest value in coaching frameworks lies in the opportunity to use them to notice your own questioning patterns.

Kerryn Question Types

Dr Griffith's Coaching Questions Framework

With a range of coaching frameworks on hand, you can engage in some powerful reflection of your own and ask yourself what kind of questions you ask a lot of and what kind of questions you tend to forget about or even avoid. Here is the framework of questioning that emerged from my own PhD study of the learning process in coaching. This framework of questions supports clients in discovering their self-knowledge.

  1. Current Circumstances e.g. What is happening now?
  2. Emotions e.g. How do you feel when you think about that?
  3. Desires e.g. What would like to see happening?
  4. Values e.g. What is it that's so important to you here?
  5. Thinking e.g. What goes through your head right at that moment?
  6. Behaviour e.g. What new habits do you need to achieve your goal?

Importantly, while there may be a trend in the order of questions, there is no sequence of questions in the above framework. You just question as deeply as you need in order to move your clients toward their desires. It's a felt sense, rather than a prescription for questioning.

Wrap up

One of the most powerful things you can do to increase the power of your coaching is to spend some time reflecting on your coaching yourself. Just as you need to focus on asking questions which trigger your clients' reflection, so too do you need to allow reflection to do its work for you.

The above framework of questions can be used to reflect on your coaching conversations and consider where you comfortably hang out most of the time.

Here are some coaching questions for you to learn and grow your questioning skills from:

  • Where do you spend most of your time when questioning? e.g.  current circumstances, desires.
  • What are you missing as you jump into solutions? e.g.  the rest of the self-knowledge aspects
  • How fully do you explore emotions, thinking or values?
  • To what degree do you explore current and future behaviours in your session?

By making the most of the abundant coaching models and frameworks out there, and focusing on allowing reflection to do its job, you can keep a finger on the pulse of your questioning to ensure you are not missing the powerful openings in your sessions.

If you liked this article on Coaching Questions and Questioning, you may also like:

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Contributing Author:

Kerryn Griffiths, PhD (coaching and learning), is the founder and global coordinator of ReciproCoach, an international community of professional coaches for quality, affordable reciprocal peer coaching, mentoring and supervision. Join thousands of like-minded coaches at ReciproCoach.com with the coupon code: CoachingToolsCo and not only will you be on your way to having your own coach, but you'll also receive a year's subscription to your choice of one of the ReciproCoach Business resources ($27.50 value).

Learn more about Kerryn & see all their articles here >>


    • Michela Phillips

      You are most welcome, Sara! Glad you enjoyed the article 🙂
      - Kindly, Michela


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