Coaching -the Power of Questions


What is coaching?



Coaching is a style of management in which the manager encourages people to reach their full potential by encouraging self-belief and self-development. Self-belief gives people the drive to achieve their potential. Self-development gives them the means.


How is it done?



A manager encourages self-belief by encouraging success. The aim is to create a virtuous circle in which the individual succeeds and this increases his or her self-belief. The increased self-belief leads the individual to strive for greater success and this builds more self-belief.

Encouraging success involves two main elements:

  1. Helping people to set goals for themselves that stretch them beyond what they can comfortably achieve but which are within their capacity, and
  2. Helping them to achieve those goals by encouraging them to devise and implement their own effective action plans.


Encouraging self-development has two main elements:

  1. Helping them to review their experiences and to draw appropriate lessons from them, and
  2. Helping them to understand themselves better by providing neutral, objective feedback.


The skills of coaching

There are two main skill sets required of the effective coach:

  1. Helping people to think by asking appropriate questions
  2. Providing neutral and objective feedback.


Helping people to think by asking appropriate questions

The most powerful technique that a coach has is to ask questions that challenge the other person to think. People are likely to need help with:

  • Overcoming obstacles
  • Evaluating different courses of action

When people come to the coach with problems the coach must keep the responsibility for solving them squarely on the shoulders of the other person. Even if the coach can see at once how to solve a problem, he or she must not do so. Self-belief comes from things you achieve yourself and so the coach must make sure that the other person solves the problem.


Here are some questions that the coach can use to help people solve problems:

How might you overcome this?

What would the effect be of ignoring this problem?

How damaging is this problem to what you are trying to achieve?

What options have you considered?

  • Have you encountered anything like this before?
  • Can anyone else help with this?

What resources do you have at your disposal that might help?

  • How have you solved similar problems in the past?
  • What would an ideal solution look like?
  • If (one part of the problem) was not a problem, how would you overcome the rest of the problem?

The other area in which the coach is likely to be asked for help is in choosing between different courses of action. Again, the coach should not give advice. Rather, the coach should help the person to explore the different options and to think out the implications of following each one.

Useful questions here include:

  • Are there any other options you could consider?
  • What are the advantages of option 1?
  • What are the disadvantages of option 1?
  • What resources will you need for the different options?
  • What will the effect of the different options be on (person or people)?


How to construct coaching questions

There are several types of question that the coach can ask:

-              Clarify

-              Simplify

-              Multiply

-              Will it fly?

-              Do it by?

It is not necessary to ask every type of question in every situation and it is not necessary to ask them in any particular order. But the coach should be aware of these different types and should practise using them effectively.



Questions that help people to clarify their problem, issue or choices can be very helpful. These can be questions such as:

-              Describe the problem to me?

-              Tell me how you see the situation?

-              What exactly do you want to achieve?

The intention is to help the other person to think clearly about the issue that they are discussing with you.



These are questions that help people see the wood from the trees. Questions such as:

-              What would you say are the important issues here?

-              If problem A didn't exist, how would you solve problem B?

-              Can you break the goal down into steps?



These are questions that unlock the person's thinking and help them consider a range of possibilities. These are questions such as:

-              What other solutions might there be?

-              What else might you consider?

-              If that wasn't possible, what else could you do?


Will it fly?

Use these to help the other person evaluate various options

-              Do you have the funds to do that?

-              How long will it take you to achieve that?

-              What might problems do you see along the way?


Do it by?

These are questions to help the other person finalise their choices and commit to a course of action:

-              What have you decided to do?

-              When will you do it?

-              When would you like to review progress?


Giving feedback

A most useful aid to developing and improving our own performance is objective feedback. The thing we all want to know is how we really appear to other people.

As a coach, you need to be able to give neutral and objective feedback. Neutral and objective feedback is like holding a mirror up to someone so that they can see for themselves what they are doing, how they are doing it and what the effect is of their behaviour on other people.

The moment you express an opinion, this mirror is shattered. Opinions generate reactions and you are then into arguments, a mirror cannot be argued with.

A good illustration of this is using a video camera to help people with presentations. Just seeing yourself on screen and realising for yourself that you fiddle with your keys, shuffle from one leg to the other or say "er ... " every few seconds has a more dramatic effect on your learning than any amount of opinion from your colleagues.

So how do you, as coach, hold up this mirror. The answer is that you stick exclusively to description when giving feedback.-·Describe don't interpret. So, for example, don't say "You seemed nervous". That is an interpretation. Say something like, "You were standing with your weight on your left leg and you were looking rapidly round the room".

This is a fairly obvious example and it gets more difficult when describing behaviour at work. Nevertheless, this is what the coach must strive for.

 A useful approach is:

Describe what you actually saw the person do

Describe any effects that their behaviour had, to your certain knowledge. For example, if someone told you that they were upset by the person's behaviour, report this factually. Don't say that their behaviour was upsetting without substantiating that statement.

Here are two examples:

"You are really good with people"

"Three of your people have told me that they feel very motivated working for you. When I asked why this was, they said it was because you worked so hard yourself. One person told me that she felt you took too much on yourself and did not delegate enough to her."

The first is an example of judgemental feedback. Although it may make the individual feel better, it does not give him or her any useful information upon which they can act. Furthermore, they may not believe or accept it. The second example provides hard facts. The individual can now decide whether to act on these.

“Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximise their growth” John Whitmore










Contact Us
We'd love to hear from you. Please get in touch.
Need to ask us a question?
Use the submission for below

You can also find us here
  • 0333 5777 144