Coaching is not only about asking probing questions that are broad and indirect. Coaches also challenge clients to live up to their values, ask for steps to be chosen and taken, and aren’t afraid to be clear enough to nail a decision down. Direct questions are an important coaching tool. However, they are also the most easily misused type of question. A misplaced word or two can make the difference between a great coaching question and one that causes a defensive reaction.
As a coach you can use this important coaching tool for any of the following reasons:
• Ask for action or for a decision: “What will you do?”
• Challenge the client: “How does that decision align with your values?”
• Provide accountability: “Did you exercise three times for 20 minutes this week?”
• Focus the discussion: “Do you want to focus on finding a job or making a budget?”
To ensure your success in using direct questions, remember the following:
1. Great direct questions are about the client’s growth, not the coach’s emotional agenda.Remember, coaching is client-centered. You’ve violated one of the key principles of coaching if the dialogue revolves around your issues or emotions.
2. Great direct questions don’t accuse, they inquire.Don’t ask questions with an implied right answer—it may get a defensive response from a client.
3. Good questions are neutral.Neutral questions are more likely to elicit a thoughtful response instead of a reaction.
4. Great direct questions avoid inflammatory language. Inflammatory language can often be an attempt to influence a client’s behavior by making him feel stupid or guilty.
5. Great direct questions challenge without using guilt, shame or intimidation. Honor your client by allowing them to make the decisions about their own lives. Challenge them without taking responsibility for their lives.
6. Great direct questions avoid the word “Why.”No matter how careful you are using the word “why” there is always an implication that there’s a wrong motive, and that risks an unwanted reaction.
7. Great direct questions point toward a positive outcome.A positive, proactive question is more likely to be received as an inquiry instead of an accusation.
Tony Stoltzfus is a best-selling author, leadership coach and master coach trainer and director of the Leadership Metaformation Institute. Additional information on the role of questions in the coaching relationship can be found in Tony’s book, Leadership Coaching.