Coaching Questions for Clarity

A coach who works with a coachee has the task to clarify the conversation in order to be effective. In essence, it isn't for the coach to know, but for the coachee to be clear on their own situation, goals and methods.

As part of a coach's ethics, we do not seek out coachees, nor do we ask point blank what a coachee's problems are. This, in fact, puts them on the defensive as not many would admit to a busybody that they have problems.

The truth is, we all have problems. We just seek out the most trusted people to share them with.
When a coachee comes to you, the coach, the three most powerful questions you can ask are What, How, and When (WHW) in relation to their solution (not the problem). Thus, while the coachee may be problem-focused, the coach is solution-focused.

For the WHW to be effective, the coach must apply the APA: Acknowledge, Pause and Ask.

Take for example, a coachee who says to you, "I have a problem". Instead of finding the root cause of the problem, you immediately say the following:
  • Acknowledge: "I hear that you are facing a problem that is ..."
  • Pause: Allow for the realisation that you are listening and understand that they are willing to let you help them.
  • Ask: Ask the following WHW in any form necessary:
  1. Q1: "What do you want to achieve?"
  2. Q2: "How do you want to achieve it?"
  3. Q3: "When do you want to achieve it?"
(Repeat the APA at every level of Q1-Q3)

These basic questions are less to get accurate answers and more to get the coachee primed to begin thinking of these answers in a structured manner.

However, each question has a clarifying follow-up that will explore their convictions, motivations, options and planning.

For Q1, sample clarifiers could be:
  • "What do you mean by that?", and
  • "Why is it important that you achieve this?".
For Q2, sample clarifiers could be:
  • "What else?" (to provoke more options) and keep going until the coachee has nothing left to add.
  • Follow this up with a choice: "Out of all these options of how you want to achieve your goal, which one do you want to start with?" and wait for them to choose one.
For Q3, sample clarifiers can be:
  • "When do you want to achieve this", or
  • "When do you want to start doing this option?" depending on the situation and the conviction of the coachee.
  • Follow this up with "How do you know that you have acted on the above?", or
  • "What will be the evidence that you have achieved your goal?"
When you have navigated this conversation towards a solution, close it up with this question: "How do you feel now that we've had this talk?"

If the answer comes with an emotional response: "[Deep breath][Exhale] Wow... I feel a lot better. It's like a huge burden has been lifted off my shoulders," this indicates a genuine change.

However, if the answer is non-committal, "Yeah, I guess... Can't say for sure," then the coaching process did not make a desired impact on the coachee for various reasons.

Continue the process when it's convenient until you see evidence of a positive change in commitment or you detect that the person is uncoachable. This requires a different approach that we won't cover here.

In short, coachees require a coach not to provide solutions, but to facilitate their own thought processes to clarify and commit to the options they choose. This preserves their independence and also allows them to be responsible and accountable for their own actions.

Coaching is a skill all leaders and managers must have in order to keep their workforce motivated and committed. Learn how to coach today, and help the people around you achieve their potential.