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Coaching With Impactful Questions

Angela MacDonald Nov 18, 2014 8:00:00 AM

A lot of coaching comes down to the questions you ask and how you ask them. The most effective coaches will ask a question instead of making a statement, but it’s also the type of question they ask that makes a difference. The key is to ask impactful questions that produce results. These questions will lead to deeper learning for the employee and the creation of an action plan that will produce results for both the employee and the manager.

So, what is an impactful question?

Impactful questions are open-ended questions that can’t be answered with a yes or no. They open up awareness and deeper understanding about the issue, which results in greater learning. Using powerful open-ended questions will encourage the coachee to explore them self and the situation, discover new insights and correlations between actions, behavior and outcome, and it will open up possibility for new choices and actions.

When I think of impactful questions I always think of my Dad. He always took a coaching approach with his parenting style. It seemed to come naturally for him. When it came to disciplining, he would always ask powerful, open-ended question that would get me thinking about my actions, the choices I had made and the consequences that resulted. He would guide me to see the situation from another perspective and how I could do it differently or resolve the issue. His coaching approach was effective for both positive and negative experiences in my life and it caused me to look at myself more deeply and experience greater learning along the way. This approach has influenced me to use the coaching approach in my life. 

Using impactful, open-ended questions to help people learn and grow goes back to Socrates in Ancient Greece. Rather than teach his students by lecture, he asked questions that lead to deeper thought and debate.

Today, asking impactful questions in a coaching situation supports learning and will engage a person, open up new perspectives and identify new possibilities. This can lead to setting goals and achieving the desired outcome. When impactful questions are asked it allows for openness instead of defensiveness. The purpose of coaching is to get results that are created by people.

Another key to asking impactful questions is to keep the question short, simple and clear. Avoid asking long questions that may lose the listener’s attention. By keeping the questions simple and asking them one at a time, it allows the coachee to experience those aha moments.

And, as I mentioned in my last blog about listening, coaching is sometimes about being silent, which also applies to impactful questions. How do you know when you've asked an impactful question? The person you are coaching may pause or have a moment of hesitation, they may respond with a need to think about that for a moment, or respond with an 'I don't know'. An impactful question can take a coachee to a stand-still where they see them self or the situation from a different angle. The coachee may require time to process and come up with an answer or insight. This is a time when you need to remain quiet.

You, as the coach, need to be positive and have faith in the person you are coaching; believe that they have the answers and the best way to coach them is to help them discover their own answers. Your ability to ask impactful questions in conjunction with listening with intention will create a powerful coaching session and outcome.

  Coaching Cheat Sheet

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Topics: Employee Engagement, Coaching and Development