Build your coaching question vocabulary, look at my top 20 list…

Because questioning skills are critical coaching skills, every coach should work to build up their coaching question vocabulary.

Here are my top 20 coaching questions, in order of importance. Starting with the least important working towards what I feel the most important coaching questions are.

 

How we ask a question is as important as what we ask!

Do remember that the coaching question itself is not enough, we also need to learn how to ask these questions and when to ask them. Asking even a brilliant coaching question too soon can backfire.

Think of some questions as belonging on the ground and others as belonging in the clouds. Some questions focus us in on the practical details at ground level. Other questions lift us up to a broader inspirational aerial viewpoint.

If you were looking from a beautiful aerial viewpoint and someone asked you a ground level question, it would feel disheartening. If you were busy with detail and someone asked you an aerial view lofty question, it could feel out of place.

Master Coaches learn to intuitively work to lift people up off the ground slowly, using high-level questions. And they also learn to bring people down to the ground slowly, when practical details need to be excavated.

If you’ve just asked somebody a beautiful inspiring aerial level question that has them getting choked up with emotion, the next question you ask should not be something like, “Which day of the week do you want to schedule that in for?” Can you see how this is jarring?

Also remember, that a master coach would not use these questions in a vacuum. A coach, for example, would also incorporate the words that the client uses into the question. A coach would also make sure that the question totally belongs and was relevant to that moment in the coach conversation.

As Master Coaches, we don’t use questions randomly. We know that questions send people on quests, hence the word “quest-ion”.

So I’m offering you these 20 questions, just remember that they all have a place and need to be used with intuitive timing.

I’ve taken the liberty of explaining briefly, why I have chosen each question, and sometimes giving you a tip as to when to use this question.

#20: “How could you possibly make that a reality?”

Coaching tip: Soften the edge of your questions.

This is potentially a typical solution focused, “how” coaching question. But notice the use of the word possibly and could — this is to soften the edge of the question, which opens the mind to feeling relaxed enough to explore possible solutions.

If we ask questions in a harsh way we will not harvest good treasures from our questioning.

This question belongs closer to the ground, when we are discussing the practicalities of making a goal a reality. Keep this type of question in the middle to the end of the coaching session. It is premature to ask this type of question too soon.

#19: What is one small step that you could take, in the next few days, to make a start towards your dream?

Coaching tip: Don’t mix grounded practical questions with inspiring ones.

Like the question above, this coaching question is a grounded one, a typical solution focused coaching question. What I like about it is the “one small step” which makes this question better than other typical questions like, “What steps can you take?”

This question also belongs in the middle to the end of the coaching session when it feels time to get into the nitty-gritty of practical action.

Don’t mix this question in with more inspirational higher level questions. It will feel disjointed if it’s in the wrong place.

#18: Who else will benefit from you achieving this goal?

Coaching tip: Use deepened value questions to create engagement and buy-in.

This is what we at InnerLifeSkills call a deepened value question. It belongs at the beginning of the session but can also be used at any point when you feel that your client needs more motivation and when you need to be more engaged in their coaching session.

It asks the client to realize that more people other than themselves will benefit from their sustained work towards success. This can be highly motivating to many.

Part of our job as a coach, is to motivate and inspire, but it’s more important to help the clients to motivate themselves.

#17: What other areas of your life will benefit from you achieving this goal?

Coaching tip: Don’t use your why to motivate.

This is the second example of an InnerLifeSkills deepened value question. Our coaches receive 6 pages of notes on deepening the value questions and methods because this is such an important part of coaching.

If you don’t find somebody’s why you can’t find their way. Please don’t make the mistake of trying to use your why, or your reason to motivate someone else to take action.

Excavate their best reason, their most inspiring purpose behind their goal — and you will have a way to motivate them.

#16: How will you know that you are there?

Coaching tip: Clarify and get evidence about what someone means.

It’s amazing how many times we assume we understand what somebody says. If you asked 20 people if they want to be happy, I’m sure most of them would say yes. But what would they mean by the word happy?

This type of question is called an evidence procedure question. It is specifically used when working to establish a contract, which is the defined outcome for a coaching session, or when excavating a goal.

We want to know what will prove to someone that they have reached success.

#15: How can you keep yourself on track?

Coaching tip: Get your client to keep themselves on track.

It’s one thing establishing goals it’s quite another taking action. Many people fail to implement. This is where coaching is so incredibly important, its role is to keep people moving forward.

This question is called a deepening commitment question. Notice that we ask the client to find their own best solutions to keep themselves on track. As a coach we don’t take it on our shoulders to keep our clients on track. And neither do we tell them how to make sure that they stay on track.

 

#14: What truly motivates you?

Coaching tip: Find out what motivates your client.

This lovely short question can open up a wonderful discussion and give us a lot of good information to help our clients to be inspired to take action towards their dreams and goals. Clarifying what truly motivates us is an excavation into our core values.

This type of question I feel belongs at the beginning of a coaching session, because it is inspirational in its nature. Use it when you are looking at a high level with your client, amongst other inspirational questions. Or use it to create buy-in and motivation at any stage.

 

#13: Just suppose there were a few possible solutions, what 3 come to mind first?

Coaching tip: Make your questions exploratory and experimental.

If we ask too harshly or directly, like for example “What is the solution?” We can put so much pressure on the client that they fail to answer properly, giving us a surface answers or simply reply, “I don’t know.”

But asking for just a few possible solutions, and note the word “possible”, and suggesting that we want 3 that simply “come to mind” we make the conversation exploratory and low risk.

This creates an environment where your client feels free enough to experiment with ideas.

This invites innovation, intuition and creativity.

 

#12: If that feeling could speak what might it say?

Coaching tip: Help your client to articulate subtle feelings where needed.

You would only use this question in a very specific context, certainly not randomly.

You would need to have established a lot of rapport and you would need to be at points during the coaching session where deeper more vulnerable work was being explored. It’s likely that this would be happening somewhere in the middle of the session.

Use this type of question to help someone to articulate subtle feelings or understandings. For example, your client says, “I just feel stuck right now.” You could also say, “I know it sounds crazy but if that stuck feeling could speak to you right now, what might it say?”

 

#11: If you take a moment to imagine yourself already living the dream, how does that feel?

Coaching tip: Help your client to imagine their success and then plan from that perspective.

This question is like a condensed version of the Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) “As If frame.”

The theory behind this line of questioning is that it is easier for the mind to come up with solutions when it imagines already being in the reality of the goal. Imagine standing on a cliff looking across the canyon at another cliff which represents our goal. It’s hard to imagine how are we going to get there.

So instead we imagine already being at the goal, and then ask our minds to come up with possible solutions that we took in hindsight.

This is also called backwards planning.

 

#10: What do you need to see here?

Coaching tip: Occasionally pause to get your client to look more deeply.

This broad question needs to be asked slowly with rapport already established. It’s an open-ended question to be used when you feel that your client needs to stop and gain insight.

Most likely, this question would be used during a deeper exploratory part of the coaching session. It can be used to reflect on what has already been established or to look deeper at something that you feel is important to the client.

 

#9: How can you best support yourself right now?

Coaching tip: Help your client to help themselves.

If your client is facing vulnerability or difficult feelings, this is a good coaching response. As coaches we help people to help themselves and we don’t carry their burdens for them.

We provide a safe neutral space that is non-judgemental and ask powerful questions to help them to discover their own best solutions.

So if your client starts to struggle, use this open empowering question, give them a lot of space and don’t rush them for answers. Especially if they’re vulnerable.

 

#8: Even if the worst happened, what is still true that is important to you?

Coaching tip: Find what is still true to neutralize a client’s fear.

InnerLifeSkills teaches a coaching process called, “equal to future outcomes.” I love this process for its power to neutralize our fears about the dreaded, “what if’s” that keep us paralyzed.

This question comes from this InnerLifeSkills process and must be used skilfully to be effective.

The intention is to help the client to find something that cannot be taken from a dreaded feared future.

 

#7: Imagine that you have that—completely and totally—what does this give you inside of yourself that is even more important to you?

Coaching tip: Excavate your client’s core values.

This question can be repeated again and again to help the client to go deeper and deeper through layers of values until they strike the treasure of finding a core value.

A core value is central to a person. It represents very personal and very significant aspects of themselves.

As coaches we can motivate our clients by accessing their core values and helping them to clarify their core values. In an InnerLifeSkills coaching process called the ILS Kite, we use a client core value to transform an inner obstacle.

 

#6: Imagine yourself a few years in the future, having achieved what you are setting out to achieve, what advice do you think your future self would give you today?

Coaching tip: Get your client to give themselves good advice.

This is a fun easy to use question, that can open up an entire discussion unearthing valuable solutions.

Some of my graduate InnerLifeSkills Coaches have even turned this into an exercise, where they get their clients to write themselves letters, from their future successful self.

What a wonderful way to get someone to give themselves good advice!

 

#5: Just suppose that feeling was trying to give you something positive, what would it be?

Coaching tip: Excavate a positive intention.

One of the most powerful InnerLifeSkills processes, called the ILS Kite helps to excavate the client’s positive intention behind even destructive or limiting behaviours. Once we have a positive intention, the good reason behind a bad behaviour, we can leverage that positive intention to transform the bad behaviour.

This question needs to be asked very skilfully, with a lot of rapport and using the ILS 3 Critical Skills.

 

#4: Why is that important to you?

Coaching tip: Help people to discover and clarify what is whispering inside of themselves.

This is such a simple question but it is in the top 5 for a reason. Finding someone’s why is the key to their inspiration and motivation. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that your why will motivate your client. Take the time to find their reasons.

Also, don’t assume that people already know the answer to this question.

By asking questions like this we help people to discover and clarify what is only whispering inside of themselves.

 

Now for my top 3 coaching questions…

#3: If you were guaranteed success, what would you try?

Coaching tip: Create an inspiring vision for your client.

This broad sweeping inspiring question deserves time and space. Don’t ask it in a quick flippant way. Reserve it for somewhere early in the session when you want to lift the client up to an aerial view, to see the bigger picture and to create a vision for themselves.

Use this question for visioning, working to establish goals and to inspire.

 

#2: If you were totally free, who would you be?

Coaching tip: Invite self-enquiry into your coaching.

One of my most inspiring dreams is to help others to be free.

Free of the binding ignorance that imprisons and restricts us. That’s why this is my second most favourite question. It deserves time and space like all good questions do. Don’t ask it quickly, and reserve it for a time in the coaching session where your connection to your client is good, and it feels right to open up this line of self-enquiry.

Don’t rush their answers. Let them discover the many possible answers that can arise from such an important question.

 

#1: What is the deeper truth here?

Coaching tip: Look for deeper truth.

This is my favourite question. It’s the question that I have asked myself time and time again, over 20 years of self-coaching. It’s the question that I reserve for clients, in that special moment when it’s time to let the truth illuminate and free someone’s mind.

This is not a question that you ask without deep reverence and respect. To ask this question well, you must hold a safe space, use silence and stay in coach position in other words, to be neutral and non-judgemental.

If you don’t ask this question properly the client’s surface mind will answer “I don’t know,” or they simply won’t understand the question.

Every time I have asked myself this question and used my intuition and self-enquiry to go deeper than my own surface mind, I have found treasures that have often been life-changing. Every moment in our lives offers us the opportunity to look at things at the surface level or to find the deeper truth.

The truth does set us free.

Looking for deeper truth and being willing to challenge anything less than the deepest truth takes courage.

That is why this coaching question is my most prized and valued question. I am so grateful for the question and what it is has brought to me and many of my clients.

 

Final Message

I hope you enjoyed my top 20 coaching questions, and the coaching tips that came with each of them.

My team and I would love to offer you the opportunity to change lives using questions like these.

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