“Questions are the currency of coaching, “ and asking questions is a fundamental skill of a coach. Our coaching artistry is expressed in the questions we ask, the questions we don’t ask. It is colored by how we ask and when we ask. It is shaped by the intention we bring to our questions and how we hold the responses our questions bring forth.
When I was learning to coach, questions seemed awkward and unnatural. Now, when I’m coaching, the questions come easily and flow out of me, coming from the connection with my client. I ask questions that I don’t know the answer to and sit calmly, waiting to hear the response. Each question causes my client to pause, ponder, and discover something new. I am tuned in to her; questions arise from within me and, somehow, each is the perfect question to ask next. The session flies by, we are in perfect sync, new insights popping up at every turn. By the end of the session, my questions have caused profound transformation and my client is delighted.
WAIT!!!! Oops - I’ve obviously wandered off into Coach Fantasy Land. Sorry about that!
To be honest, I’ve had my moments of coaching flow that feels like what I described above. Those are the moments we live for, aren’t they? The rest of the time, I can be artful in my questions with a calm and connected presence, in spite of what’s going on inside my head and my own emotions. It’s like meditation. The problem-solving and leading questions are in my stream of consciousness, but I let them float by without sharing them with my client.
By doing this, I stay in the flow of the conversation, making choices of where to allow the client to continue on her path and when to disrupt and shake things up.
The questions that disrupt the coaching flow are leading questions. When the coach asks a leading question, there’s a change in direction, a change in what the client thinks about. You can feel the energy shift.
Because leading questions can have a big impact on the coaching conversation, they are important to understand.
What is a Leading Question?
A leading question is one that moves the client towards a specific answer or response. Here are some variations:
- The question includes the desired response
- “Would having an alarm ring every hour be a helpful reminder?”
- The question suggests the desired response
- “What would happen if you had an alarm ring every hour to remind you to pause?”
- The question influences/manipulates the other to give the desired response
- “I’ve heard that setting an alarm can be really helpful and it works for me. What do you think about trying that?”
- The question eliminates a set of possible responses
- “I see two options. Would it be helpful to use an alarm or to pause before you walk into a room ?”
These are simple examples and my assessment is that the coach is asking these questions as a disguise for advice she wants to give. I call these “faux questions” or “advice in the form of a question”.
The leading questions you ask might be a little more nuanced or cleverly worded. I invite you to reflect. Do you know what your leading questions sound like? Are you aware of the trigger that moves you to want to lead the client?
Isn’t Every Question a Leading Question?
When you get right down to it, all questions lead the client’s thinking in a particular direction. All questions are leading, to some extent.
“What??”, you say. “Does Sue really mean that? What about all those beautiful “what” questions? Or the list of questions provided by Co-Active Coaching that Sue recommends so highly? How can they be considered leading questions?”
OK, maybe that’s a provocative statement. But consider the following:
The wonderful, open question “What do you want?” is asking the client to focus on the future, on themselves, on their desire - rather than on the past or present, on other people or the situation, or on what they don’t want or the story they are making up about the situation.
“What are you noticing?” suggests they focus on their noticing, rather than somewhere else.
Think about all of your favorite coaching questions. Might they be considered “leading” in some way?
The level of disruption our questions cause is related to the timing and our intention in asking the question. When you ask a disruptive or leading (but not a “faux”) question, consider the following: For what purpose are you leading the client in that direction? Is it aligned with the objective they set for the coaching session? Is it aligned with the larger coaching intention of creating awareness that supports the client’s development? Are you leading them where they need to go? Are you taking the next step on the path, even if steering them to the right? If you are in the flow, the question won’t feel “leading”.
If, on the other hand, the question abruptly change the direction of the conversation or is not in the flow, it will feel disruptive and leading. For example, if the client is revealing that what’s stopping them is a fear of betrayal and appearing weak, and your next question is “What do you think your boss wants from the meeting?”, your question is disrupting the flow.
Sometimes, this disruption is just what’s needed in the conversation. Sometimes, it’s not.
What are you choosing for the client when you ask a leading question that disrupts the flow of the conversation?
Interested in examining your coaching questions in a supportive community of learners? Join my Coaching Master Class starting in May! http://suemcleodcoaching.com/master-class.html