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Tool: Coaching questions

Typical use (type of issue/project)

To help you to consider the different forms of questions you may use during a coaching programme.

Ease of use rating

Used by

Yourself as the coach.

Tips for effective use

Remember that coaching is often about asking questions that shift or widen the individual’s perspective, so all questions asked should contribute to achieving this.

Signals of successful use

Having purposeful and well thought out questions to use during your coaching session.

Signals of unsuccessful use

Finding yourself at a loss for words and direction in the middle of a coaching session.

Links to other tools

SMART, ACHIEVE, and Response feedback.

Coaching questions

He who asks a question is a fool for a minute; he who does not remains a fool forever.
Types of questions Examples When to use
Leading No problems at work, of course, right? Never
Multiple Why did you do it? What were you thinking of? How do you think I feel? Never
Probing How many people were involved? When did you start in this position? To check facts, details, to intervene
Blockbusting Who, specifically...? Compared with what? To focus vague or generalised statements
About What else can you tell us about...? What do you think about...? To begin, to elicit opinions
Reflective Are you saying that...? It seems you were feeling...? To endsure understanding, to help process strong feelings
Hypothetical What might have happened if...? What would you do if...? To test thinking, creativity
Challenging What evidence do you have...? What's missing here? To test thinking, objectivity
Framing What was your objective? How does this relate to...? To understand, to get the person on track

The power of being curious

As a coach or in a coaching conversation your curiosity leads you to know the client from the inside out. You learn, you are curious about what you learn, and so you keep asking. The client in turn keeps responding to your curiosity by going inside too looking for his own answers, trying to understand his own world and the way he operates, what stirs him and what stops him. In time you get to know the client's interior workings until ultimately you become the client's voice asking the questions the client himself would ask. The coach is in a better position to ask these questions because the coach isn't distracted by gremlins, or history, or colleagues’ opinions, or loved one's feelings, or anything else. The inquiries become more intriguing; the powerful questions become more potent. And in the process the client adopts some of the strengths of the coaching, like building internal capabilities. Clients learn what it's like to be curious about themselves and less judgmental.

To practice, try the following:

1. Curiosity

Spend a half hour in a coffee shop being curious about everyone in the place. Without actually talking to anyone at first, let your curiosity wander and pose the questions to yourself:

  • I wonder where they are out of balance in their lives...
  • I wonder what they value...
  • I'm curious about what they are missing in their lives, what makes them laugh, where they have constructed self-imposed limits.
  • What do they like about the day?
  • What are their life dreams?
  • What empowers them?
  • What do they like about the people they're sitting with?

At the end of the half hour, find one person you can spend a little more time with and actually ask her or him the curious questions. As you ask the curious questions, be aware of what is happening with the other person.

  • How does this person respond to you when you are curious?

Then look at your own role in the conversation. Afterwards, be curious about your own curiosity.

  • What did you learn about being curious?
  • What was easy? What was hard?
  • What made it easy or hard?
  • How could you be more curious?
  • What would that give you?
Curious questions do not ask for more data. With curious questions, one question almost always leads to another, as if you were traveling down a tunnel.

2. Powerful questions

One of the simplest ways to experience the power of powerful questions is also one of the most challenging. In this exercise, the goal is to have a thirty-minute conversation with another person in which you are only allowed to ask powerful questions: no statements, no summarising, no advice or storytelling of your own, no drawing conclusions. Your role is to ask powerful questions and nothing more. (You may want to review the list of powerful questions below). Afterwards, ask the person for feedback. What was it like when all you did was ask questions? Then tell the person what it was like for you to be confined to questions. What worked for you about that? What made it difficult?

Powerful questions are provocative queries that put a halt to evasion and confusion. By asking the powerful question, the coach invites the client to clarity, action, and discovery at a whole new level. As you can see from the following examples, these are generally open-ended questions that create greater possibility for expanded learning and fresh perspective.

  • What might happen?
  • What if it doesn't work out the way you wish? What if that doesn't work?
  • And if that fails, what will you do?
  • What is your backup plan?


  • What do you make of it?
  • What do you think is best? How does it look to you? How do you feel about it? What if it doesn't work?


  • What do you mean?
  • What does it feel like? What seems to confuse you? Can you say more?
  • What do you want?


  • In what way?
  • Is this good, bad, or in between? In what way? How does this fit with your plans/way of life/values?
  • What do you think that means? What is your assessment?


  • May we explore that some more?
  • Would you like to brainstorm this idea? What other angles can you think of? What is just one more possibility? What are your other options?


  • Will you give an example?
  • For instance?
  • Like what?
  • Such as?
  • What would it look like?


  • Will you elaborate?
  • Will you tell me more about it?
  • What else?
  • Is there more?
  • What other ideas do you have about it?

Fun as perspective

  • What was fun about?
  • What was humorous about the situation?
  • How can you have it be fun?
  • How do you want it to be?
  • If you were to teach people how to have fun, what would you say?

For instance

  • If you could do it over again, what would you do differently?
  • If it were you, what would you have done?
  • How else could a person handle this?
  • If you could do anything you wanted, what would you do? For instance?