Think about the last time you received coaching that really made a difference. Many, unfortunately, can’t think of an instance; however, a lucky few have received coaching that really helped them grow. There were probably qualities that made it effective. One of those qualities probably was that the person giving it asked good coaching questions. Too often we think of coaching as one way—like a wise sage sitting on a mountaintop imparting words of wisdom. That’s not even close! Good coaches do share their experience, knowledge, and skills, with the person they are coaching, but they also involve that person in the process.
People who are good at coaching recognize that questions offer them several advantages:
First, they allow them to clearly assess where the person they are coaching is in the development process. Making assumptions about what a person knows or the skills he or she has can lead the process in the wrong direction or bore the person with useless information.
Next, they guide the process and steer the development in the direction it needs to go. A good question can take the conversation down a developmental path that is valuable to and sustainable for the person being coached.
Finally, good questions help sustain the coaching. If the person being coached plays a role in the development and considers the coaching feedback through good questions, the person is more likely to internalize the coaching. Think about the last time you heard a new concept in a lecture, maybe in college. Now compare that to a time you personally discovered a new concept and played an active role in learning it. You probably remember the new concept better when you actively participated in the learning process versus learning from a boring lecture.
Incorporating Good Questions into Coaching
Good coaching questions ask the person something that requires him or her to develop a meaningful response and advances the development process. So you need to strategically place good coaching questions in the development process, which means you need to think about and plan them. Consider the following when developing coaching questions:
1. Strategically place the questions.
You may know the knowledge, skill, or behavior you are coaching so well that you think the most efficient way to convey the information is to simply tell the person what to do. However, if you ask a good coaching question at the proper moment in the development, you can cause the person to discover the learning on his or her own. The person is more likely to remember it when he or she discovered the learning! To steal a line from selling-skills training: “Telling ain’t selling.” Well, “Telling ain’t coaching either.”
2. Make the coaching question open-ended.
A good coaching question shouldn’t be a yes or no question. Those questions don’t lead to real discovery or learning. Asking a question that requires the person being coached to think about the response will help the person learn it better and remember it longer.
3. Listen carefully to the response.
One of the biggest challenges of asking a good coaching question is that you typically know the response you are looking for and tend to listen to reply versus listening to understand. Resist that urge! Ask a good coaching question and then listen carefully to the response. A good strategy is to reflect what you heard in your own words.
Coaching is a process, not an event. The more you can get the person you are coaching involved in the process, the more impactful it will be and the more likely the person will sustain the learning. Good coaching questions are thoughtful questions that require the person to carefully consider what you are asking and grow through his or her response. To ask a good coaching question, consider its placement in the person’s development process, ask an open-ended question, and then carefully listen to the person’s response. A few well-placed coaching questions can significantly improve the quality of your coaching.