The Importance of Questions in Coaching
Sometimes one of the best methods to better others is not mentorship or lecture, but illumination through facilitated guidance. Socrates, arguably one of the greatest philosophers in Western civilization, knew this well. He approached teaching by asking his students questions and challenging them to question their own knowledge and beliefs. That’s why today this approach is known as the Socratic Method. And although it may be historic, it is still relevant today in academia and the field of coaching.
This “coaching” approach as it pertains to consulting and advising changes the traditional dynamic of power. For coaches to give clients the insights they need to make positive choices, coaches need to help the client better understand the situation. And that’s where coaching questions are invaluable. They help us to paint better pictures of any given situation and allow us the freedom to explore what is really going on.
Asking questions elevates the relationship between coach and client beyond dictating and prescription. Instead, when clients are asked something as simple as “why,” coaches challenge them to evaluate their own feelings and thoughts and to come to conclusions on their own. This coaching approach is empowering for several reasons:
It boosts confidence: Some people already know what it is they need to do, these folks often do not need coaching. Others may just need that extra reassurance to step out of their comfort zone and make the right decision. When coaches ask questions, they are indicating they have confidence in their clients’ personal assessment abilities, which is often the extra push needed to move forward.
It creates a sense of “buy-in”: People are more motivated to implement solutions and plans of action they come up with themselves but they feel have been validated by someone else. When coaches ask their clients to come up with a solution, clients are more likely to act on that solution than a solution the coach simply prescribed. Furthermore, clients’ solutions are often the most ideal because the client is the one closest to the problem.
It creates an emotional bond: No one likes to feel that they are being ignored or that their views and opinions are not valued. Asking questions indicates the coach is listening, and that helps create a powerful bond and builds trust. When clients trust their coach, they will naturally feel more motivated.
It develops leadership capability: When coaches ask questions, they are challenging their clients to take responsibility for themselves rather than relying on the coach for answers. Leadership in part is about accepting responsibility and stepping up, and so every time a client answers a question or identifies a problem for themselves, a coach is helping them build their leadership skills.
Asking the right questions — good questions — is something of an art. Coach or client, make sure to ask questions born of genuine curiosity. Don’t just fish for the answer you want, because you may be overlooking something important. Great coaching questions require time and reflection to answer and go beyond closed-ended questions. Great questions manifest data that was before unseen, making good inquiry an extremely powerful tool in the world of coaching.