Purposeful Questions

Refresher Tools for Leadership Coaches

Purposeful Questions

Purposeful Questions comes straight out of my Coaches Toolkit. In the Coaching Master Class training I teach that asking questions is at the heart of coaching. You move from being a ‘telling’ manager to an ‘asking’ leadership coach. You develop a natural inquisitiveness. These are not casual questions, they are purposeful. You must make every question count. Each question is carefully constructed to inspire and challenge the Coachee and make progress along the GROW coaching model.

Your intention as the Coach will drive the purpose and style of the questions you ask. In the G and R stage of the GROW coaching model, your intention is to raise the Coachee’s awareness. In the O and W stage of the GROW coaching model, your intention is to create Coachee responsibility. Read more about Awareness and Responsibility ….

Keep the Monkeys at Bay

An awareness raising questions encourages the Coachee to better and more deeply think about and ‘understand’ the issues, the alternative perspectives or the opinions & feelings of others and solve something. The ‘thinking’ monkey stays on their shoulder.

A responsibility creating questions encourages the Coachee to ‘own’ the problem, the action or the solution and do something. The ‘doing’ monkey stays on their shoulder.

This way, as the Coach, you keep these two pesky monkeys at bay. You do not need be thinking or doing on behalf of the Coachee.

Keep the monkeys at bay

What are the Benefits of Purposeful Questions?

Purposeful questions compel people’s attention to giving an answer:

  • they encourage the Coachee to process their thoughts at a higher level to give the accuracy and quality of answer demanded;
  • they encourage descriptive rather than judgemental answers (and therefore are challenging but not threatening);
  • they give the Coach a feedback loop so they can keep ‘tuned in’ to the Coachee.

Telling or instructing does none of these!

What Different Types of Questions are there?

There are a number of different types of questions to consider when the Coach seeks to Raise Awareness and Create Responsibility within the framework of the GROW model. Each has its own application and benefits within the coaching discussion.

Discovery Questions. When you are starting out on a new coaching subject you will use Discovery Questions to broaden out the Coachee’s horizons – especially during the Reality stage of GROW.  This means using divergent questions that open up the subject for the Coachee and allow them to discover new angles and aspects they had not previously considered.

Exploratory Questions. Through Discovery Questions you will arrive at a point in the coaching discussion where you have achieved a number of Points of Awareness for the Coachee. Invite the Coachee to spread their map of new discoveries in front of you. Use Exploratory Questions to help the Coachee make sense of these disparate plot points; to qualify and quantify issues; to help them see patterns and trends; to help them solve problems, join up the dots and resolve issues.

Drill-Down Questions. There will be stages in the coaching discussion where your instinct as the Coach tells you that your Coachee would benefit from a deep dive on a key point. Use the FOFF model to dig deeper in the Reality stage of GROW: Facts; Opinions; Feelings; Future.

Supplementary Questions. Similar in purpose to Drill-Down Questions, a Supplementary Question invites the Coachee to further probe factors connected to a previous question and/or their answer to a question. It can further develop the Coachee’s understanding. It can clarify sequencing of events and connections between events. It can confirm what the Coachee wants to happen.

Progress Questions. Progress Questions have the aim of engaging the Coachee in looking forward and remaining positive and engaged with the coaching subject. They can provide a bridge from the past to the future – from what the Coachee has been discussing that has happened in the past to how they see this rolling out in the future. As such, Progress Questions can also provide a good bridge from one part of the GROW model to the next – for example, bridging from Reality to Options.

Open & Closed Questions. Generally your coaching questions should be open – this means the Coachee cannot answer with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and they have to think and process deeply to respond. Avoid questions that seem to indicate to the Coachee what you want to hear from them. Loaded questions that include a hint at how they might answer.

Ask & Tell. When Coaches recount the story of their coaching journey they often mention how they had to overcome the inbuilt urge to tell, to instruct or to teach their Coachees. A measure of their transition to becoming a successful Coach is their ability to do much more Asking than Telling. One way to achieve this transition is to pause when you find yourself about to issue an instruction, take a moment to reframe the statement into a question and then ask that question instead.

Power of Silence. Well placed periods of silence in a coaching discussion can be very powerful in helping both the Coach and the Coachee make progress. For the Coach a well-placed pause to gather your thoughts at a key point in the coaching conversation will show the Coachee you are really thinking hard about them and their situation. It’s OK to signal this with a short statement.

coaches toolkit

There are lots of examples to support these types of questions in ‘Tools – Purposeful Questions’ in the Coaches Toolkit. There is also a ‘cheat sheet’ with examples of questions you might ask at each stage of the GROW coaching model.

Author: Trevor Sherman

Trevor Sherman: Author, Blogger and Coach. What do I do? I develop leadership training material and personal learning modules. I am the owner and operator of this Blog. I coach senior executives for their development and role transition. I am based in Northamptonshire UK and operate globally - in person and through technology.

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