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What questions to ask when you are coaching?

Updated on November 24, 2012

Questioning skills

The expression “the answer is in the question” certainly rings true for a coach or if you are coaching someone. If you are primarily conducting supportive coaching, i.e. coaching to elevate performance further (the coachee may already be meeting current performance standards and coaching primarily helps them improve even more), these set of questions will be most useful. However, even if you are doing performance coaching for your staff, asking questions will be more effective in developing their capability to solve problems or handle issues. The natural tendency for a manager is to tell his/her staff what he/she should do or could do, but this is not as effective in building staff capability. Using a questioning approach is far more effective because it gets staff to think and through the process of questioning and seeing how the staff responds, the manager can better understand where the staff might need more development, guidance or more exposure in certain aspects of his/her job.

The typical coaching questions are the Wh questions - Why, What, When, Where and How because they are open questions and encourage the coachee to open up and promote joint exploration and learning.

Why questions could be rephrased as What could be the reasons if Why creates defensiveness ( in certain cultures like Japan, Why is deem to be too confrontational)

Why do you think that happened?

Why do you think they responded that way?


Where does it happen?

Where do you think it went wrong?
Where do you see yourself in..?


What happened? What do you think happened?

What makes you think that?

What did that mean to you?

What did you learn from that?

What was behind that?

What might you do differently?

What was important about that?


How did you think or feel?

How often did …

How would you liked to have handled that?

How have you coped in the past?


When did you realize this?

When did that first occur?

The art of coaching is in asking the right question at the right time –there is a purpose behind every question from the coach. The purpose of the question could be to:

1. Clarify (e.g. when you say… what do you mean? Did that sound right?)

2. Elaborate (e.g. Could you say a bit more about that?)

3. Challenge (e.g. what makes you think this/that? Is that an interpretation or fact?)

4. Confront (e.g. Can you help me understand…You say this.. but on the other hand, you state…)

5. Quantify to provide clarity or sense of progress (e.g. on a scale of 1 to 10, how important is this/ how would you rate yourself?)

As a coach, you would ask different questions depending on the coachee’s response. Coaching is very much a dynamic process, like a dance that takes place between the coach and coachee – the coach dances accordingly in response to the coachee’s steps.


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