There are not many words that have the power to unlock possibilities and help people fulfil their potential. But these seven words are crucial to any coach or ambitious person’s toolkit. If you know how to use them effectively, they can be a brush in your hand in front of an open canvas. However, if you use them incorrectly they will create a barrier between you and the person you work with…
Coaching requires many questions to be asked to the person you work with, and this is an art! Before discussing particular effective words, I want to share a few thoughts on questioning itself. This is to ensure that the environment in which the questions are asked is optimised…
1. Know why you are asking specific questions. Your aim is to help clients think through their circumstances and generate possibilities that will help them to reach their goals. This means that you do not need to know everything and should not ask questions to merely satisfy your own curiosity, but rather to help them come up with what will help them move forward.
2. Make sure that you establish good rapport with your clients before you start with in-depth questioning. If in-depth questions are asked before a suitable level of rapport has been established, your questions may actually cause the client to close off instead of open up.
3. Always ask open questions, questions that cannot be answered with only a “yes” or “no”.
4. Really listen to the speaker, do not use the time to think of what you’ll say next. Let them determine the direction of the conversation.
Once you have created rapport and the right context, the following seven questioning words can be particularly powerful: what, why, how, when, where, who and if. Let’s look at each in turn:
This is probably the word that any good coach will use most frequently. It could be used to elicit information, help clients to think through the possible consequences of their actions and assist them in defining their goal. A very strong addition to what is the little word ‘else’. By asking what else continuously, clients are helped to generate countless possibilities from which they could then choose the most appropriate action.
This word should be approached with caution. If it is used wrongly, someone might react defensively, e.g. why did you do that? These questions will then form a barrier between the coach and the client. It is therefore much better to change into a “what” question, e.g. what were the consequences of this action? Or what made you decide to take this action? However, when used to test or increase motivation, why-questions can be very effective. For instance when someone talks about their goal and you want to help them to make it into a strong and compelling reason to follow their dream, ask: why do you want this so much?
This word could help people to take action, by thinking through the steps they will need to take to turn their dreams into reality. Asking a question like: how will you go about achieving your goal? will help clients to think through the actions they need to take next. Another powerful how-question would be to ask: how will you know when you’ve reached your goal? This question will help clients to become very clear on what needs to happen and what specific elements are required. This will make it easier for them to recognise when they have achieved their goal.
This word can be used to achieve two major outcomes. Firstly it can help people to find out who they can ask to support them or who could help them reach their goals. Secondly a who-question could help clients to realise their own responsibility for achieving their goals. This question, whose responsibility is this, can help clients to really take ownership of what needs to be done. This could be a powerful experience for clients when they really take ownership of the goals for their life.
This word is used to help clients see possibilities and unlock their creativity, e.g. if you were to do this, what would happen? If you knew the answer, what would you say? If a miracle happened and everything was how you would like it to be, what would your life look like?
After someone has decided on their action plan, this word is probably the most effective word that could be used. This word transforms dreams into goals. The word “when” can change an idea into a specific action. When someone has made plans and seem excited about doing it, just ask: when will you do this?
Although this question is not often used, it could be a real gem, especially when it is asked not to determine a specific place, but rather a direction or consequence. For instance asking someone: where will this lead? Could help them to realise the consequences or possibilities of their actions and could motivate them to take action as soon as possible. So, if you asked this question after someone said they would clean their garden, they could respond with the following answers: I will not be embarrassed to have friends over anymore; I may even invite my neighbours over… I think we could actually become good friends… This question could thus generate a lot of possibilities and subsequent excitement about the future.
These seven words are powerful, they could change your practise and they could help to change people’s lives. So use them with precision and care and see how they will help people to unlock their amazing potential.