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The key to successful coaching

Discover the importance of asking the right question at the right time to the right person.


The key to successful coaching   

Here at Go MAD Thinking we talk about the power of asking the right question at the right time to the right person. And, that right person could be you. The right question will interrupt the thinking that’s going on and point it in a helpful direction. 

To ensure you're asking the right questions, you can check if you’re asking High Quality Questions. 

So, what is a High Quality Question?

It’s one that causes you to think. 

A question that generates a high quality answer or thought. It’s the question that’ll be most helpful to you or others, at that given time to get the best answers. They’re the questions that allow others to resolve issues for themselves and challenge habitual ways of thinking

There are two types of questions that can be used depending on the desired outcomes:
•    Questions that engage the imagination and open the mind to endless possibilities and ideas 
•    Questions that focus the mind to give clarity, help make decisions and help assess priorities 

It’s for you to decide what’s the right type of question to ask. You can then phrase the questions to meet the needs of the situation.

The questions you ask yourself impact on the quality of your thinking. Discover how to design and ask questions to help you to explore options and determine the way forward on this podcast:



The key to successful coaching   

Using High Quality Questions is key to effective coaching. Be that coaching others or self-coaching. This could be in a more formal coaching session, in a casual conversation, with groups or in meetings. It could even be just that one question you ask when someone comes to you with a problem

High Quality Questions can also be used, as thought provokers, to prepare for meetings, as agenda items for meetings, to assess motivation and confidence, to help move to clearer thinking, to think about how to deal with change, to encourage discussion and in everyday conversations with friends and colleagues. 

Helping others to clarify goals or solve problems through your questioning builds understanding and self-awareness. Telling someone what to do takes away their responsibility for the situation. It denies them choice. The choice to determine the outcome, the actions to take and to have ownership. 


The key to successful coaching

Here’s 10 tips to help you to enhance the quality of your questions: 


1. Ask What and How

High Quality Questions get higher quality answers. Therefore, they must cause some thinking to take place. Asking questions that start with ‘What’ and ‘How’ require an open response. Deeper thinking takes place to enable open questions to be answered. 


2. Avoid asking Why

Asking questions that start with ‘Why’ could possibly make the person on the receiving end feel uncomfortable. ‘Why’ questions might be interpreted as being confrontational or accusatory. You can rephrase a ‘why’ question to a ‘what’ question. For example, “What are the reasons for involving this group of people?”


 3. Keep it relevant

Make sure the questions you’re asking are appropriate to the person and the situation. Focus on what they need help with. Ask questions that will move their thinking forward. Avoid getting involved in the detail and eliciting unnecessary information. Make every question count.


4. Focus on the future

High Quality Questions tend to be future focused. This is to keep the emphasis on what’s to be achieved. To stay solution focused and to be able to move forward. People may want to talk about past difficulties. You can help them to deal with these hindering recalled memories by asking a future focused question. For example, “Rather than dwelling on the past, let’s focus on what you want to do now. What possible steps could you take to complete this task?”

5. Deal with one thing at a time

Avoid asking multiple questions. When there’s more than one question asked at a time, people will tend to answer the last question or the easiest one. Taken individually the questions might be high quality, but strung together they make a poor quality multiple question.  


The key to successful coaching


6. Suspend judgement

When coaching, your role is to help others to think for themselves or you to think for yourself, if you are self-coaching.  Questions that appear to be leading to a pre-determined answer won’t achieve this. ‘Leading’ questions such as “Don’t you think you should consider making more time for this project?” have no place in coaching conversations. 


7. Go for a yes or no

Closed questions will give you a yes or no answer. Usually they’re best avoided in coaching conversations, as they won’t help encourage better or different thinking. However, they do have their place. This might be if you want to check your understanding or to check the other person’s commitment to taking responsibility for actions.  It’s making a conscious decision about when to use them. 


8. Understand the difference

There are two purposes to High Quality Questions. Either to open the mind and engage the imagination or to focus the mind. Decide which it is you want to do. This will determine how you phrase your questions.


9. Open the mind

Open the mind questions will start with ‘What’, ‘How’ or ‘Who’ and include ‘possibly’, ‘could’ or ‘might’. For example, you might ask, “What could we possibly do to ensure this project finishes on time?” This will generate possibilities, as opposed to definite actions to take.


10. Focus the mind

Focus the mind questions will include the word ‘will’. Having generated possibilities you can then ask, “What will we do to get this project finished on time?” You can then agree which actions will be taken forward into a plan.

Remember the power of right question, right time, right person! 


If you’re interested in finding out more about coaching others, take a look at our book, ‘Go MAD About Coaching’. 

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