5 Powerful Coaching Questions to Make The Biggest Impact


April 23, 2019

By: Oliver Page

The ICF (International Coaching Federation) sets out 11 core competencies of a certified coach. Each of these are crucial to be an impactful coach, but the one that truly stands out for me is ‘Powerful Questioning.’

So what is a powerful question?

A powerful question is one that makes a coachee stop in his tracks; one that they can’t answer immediately. Tell tale signs that you’ve asked a powerful question include your coachee taking a long pause, looking confused, or their eyes looking upward – as if literally looking into their head for the answer. These questions are impactful as the coachee is forced to dig deep and reach a new level of self-discovery.

Here’s my top 5 questions that, if asked at the right time, are incredibly powerful and really help the coachee achieve their goals.

1. What are you most proud of?

This question is one of my personal favourites, especially when it comes to those being held back due to lack of self-confidence. Usually people focus (and get dragged down) by their areas of development and never stop to think about their strengths and what they bring to the table – never mind celebrate them!

A common response to this question is silence and a blank or sometimes panicked look. For many people, they’ve never thought about the answer before. Or in other instances, even if they have, they don’t want to come across as arrogant or big headed.

Giving the coachee plenty of time and sometimes uncomfortable silence to answer, is crucial.

2. What else?

OK, so I said that the question above was one of my personal favourites, but this is my all time favourite.

This is a great follow up question that can be used whilst exploring a goal, setting SMART objectives, brainstorming actions, or helping a coachee explore their own thoughts and feelings at a deeper level. It’s particularly useful when a coachee is brainstorming actions for them to take and has seemingly run out of ideas. Ask them ‘What else?’ and again, be prepared to leave a long and sometimes uncomfortable pause whilst they dig deep and think. They’ll search for some more ideas and give another couple of potential actions. Then you can ask them again – ‘What else?’, repeating the process gets them dig deeper into their unconscious.  Be wary not to ask this too many times though, as a point will come when they are truly out of ideas.

From experience, a coachee typically comes up with a two or three more potential actions and 80% of the time, these are the ones they choose to go with. As a coach, our job is to challenge coachees to look deeper than their surface level, conscious responses – and this ‘What else?’ a perfect question to do that.

3. What does success look like?

Often coachees come with an idea of what they want to achieve, but it’s not always fully defined and can be blurry or vague as they have never taken the time to really focus on it. Asking them what success looks like allows them to position themselves into their desired future, focus their attention on and visualise their goal.

This question not only helps the coachee define their future; it also creates a motivation for them to drive towards it. The coach can then use this as a yardstick so if at any point the coaching conversation or journey begins to go off track,  the coach can highlight this and bring focus back onto the goal itself.

4. What’s standing in your way?

This question focuses the coachee’s attention on the obstacles stopping them in achieving their goals. Identifying these gives a new perspective on their journey and allows them to consider what actions they need to remove them moving forward.

This is effective for everyone, but particularly a good point of reflection for those that are very confident they can achieve their goal because they haven’t considered what could potentially get in their way.

Another variation of this questions is ‘what could stop you from achieving your goal?’

5. If your main obstacle didn’t exist, how would the future look?

At first glance you might say this is very similar to the previous question, but it’s actually got a completely different purpose.

Asking a coachee this question frees their mind from whatever they perceive as preventing them reaching their objective – moving their attention away from their problems & drama to being more strategic with their thinking.

This question works well with coachees stuck focussing on their problems, as opposed to solutions and actions. As a coach, the number 1 priority should be to help the coachee take a step back and take actions towards achieving their goals.

These are just a few powerful questions that you can use as a coach or line manager to support your coachees toward deeper reflection, that they can utilise to set their goals, find solutions and achieve. Try them out and see how effective they can be – if used at the right time

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