Many coaches strive for the right question that would support a client get to that AHA! moment. In fact, as an ICF Coach Training School what we see a lot in new coaches is this hunger to learn about new questions and memorise them so that in the right situation the coach knows exactly what to ask.
However, (rather unfortunately!) this is a fallacy and in reality the more that the coach focuses on asking the right question the less powerful their questioning style will be. This is because in this situation the coach will be much more focused on themselves and which question to ask rather than truly listening, noticing and being with their client in that space that they’re currently at. We focus on asking the right question but instead end up losing the client or the process we have engaged in.
Instead of focusing on asking the right question one suggestion that we have is to lead with your gut and ask curious questions, that the client might not know the answer to… yet.
Why curious questions? Here’s a few ideas:
- Curious questions tend to emerge naturally from a conversation. They are not pre-set questions that the coach has learnt but usually simpler questions that organically pop up in the coach’s frame of mind.
- Curious questions support our presence – if we are focusing on our client, similarly as if you were having a really meaningful conversation with a friend, you are present, listening and not focusing on what to ask next. Your attention is on your friend and not on asking a question that will help them solve an issue.
- Curious questions are also timely, which is another big way how to make a question powerful. It is not just important to ask the question but also to note the time when the question is asked and how it might be interpreted by our client.
- Curious questions help us pause. It’s a good sign if the question that you want to ask isn’t there just yet. It means that you are listening intently, exploring what the client is saying. We find that that pause is also helpful for the client as it leads them to stop and think. And don’t worry, if the question isn’t there, say (kindly), ‘just one moment, I’m catching up with what you mentioned here… so…’
- Curious questions take the pressure off from asking the right question. We will never truly know if a question was actually right as there are many forms how a conversation can take place. By lifting off that pressure of being ‘right’ we can focus more on just ‘being’ with our clients. We relax and can hear more deeply what the client means, their context and what’s important for them.
Next time that you are working with a client try and lift that feeling of asking the right question off. Let it go. Instead focus on being genuinely curious about your client and their situation. It’s a subtle shift but one that can reap big rewards.