Powerful questions are a cornerstone of coaching. They help the coach and client to seek understanding and find clarity around any issue, challenge, or topic that a client brings to the session. Powerful questions can be categorized based on their focus on the past, present or future; on the learn/be/do model of coaching; or around particular themes.
Powerful questions that focus on the past will help a client to explore what they have learned from their previous experiences that they can apply to the present moment. Questions that focus on the present will ask a client to explore their current emotions, processes, approaches, and other actions in the moment. Questions that focus on the future will ask a client to explore their future plans, goals, concept of self, or other aspects of their future life.
Powerful questions can also be categorized by themes. This allows you to easily apply powerful questions to particular scenarios or topics that may come up in a session.
Elements of Powerful Questions
Powerful questions all share the same basic elements:
1) They are short. Each powerful question gets to the point as quickly as possible without needing contextualization or explanation. This allows the client to focus on the question and to use the question for deep reflection and clarification.
2) They often start with “what” and “how” stems. If the question you are asking does not start with “what” or “how” it is more likely to be a closed question (see below) or a statement.
3) They are open-ended. Closed-ended questions that just request a “yes” or “no” response, or that ask a client to state a response that is just one word will not help to move a session forward.
4) They are non-judgmental. Since powerful questions are meant to bring additional understanding and clarity, they are phrased as openly as possible to elicit all ideas and responses.
5) They come from a place of curiosity. Helping clients to remain curious about their situation and context is one of the main goals of powerful questions in order to assist clients with looking at situations from new perspectives.
6) They are focused on the client. Asking the right powerful question that the client needs to hear is an art form that requires focused listening and putting oneself in the client’s shoes throughout the session.
7) They are goal-oriented. Coaches who use powerful questions will always keep the client’s overall goals, and the session goals, in mind to help shape the best questions for the moment.
8) They are followed by silence. A coach should use silence to their advantage. Once a question is posed, allow the client time to think without offering additional explanation or another question.
A couple final tips:
Powerful questions are meant to be mixed and matched as needed to help a client explore the session topic. The questions should be modified, when possible, to match a client’s language. Mirroring back the words of a client is one of the best ways to demonstrate deep listening and awareness.