Coaching Tools, Part 2 – questions to ask and why?

If you want to find out something, ask a question. Children do it instinctively and they will keep asking, digging and digging until they get an answer that satisfies them.

As a coach, questions, or rather the right questions at the right time are as powerful a tool as listening. Listening well allows you to understand what is or is not being said, which means that you can ask the right question to dig deeper into your client’s issues to bring to the surface the answers that will ultimately help them to overcome their barriers to success.

There are many types of questions. Here are three of them:

1. Reflective questions

A reflective question is where the coach asks the client to “reflect” on their own experiences, skills, knowledge, subjects that they have an awareness of. This invites the client to be truly expressive and open in their answer; it is their answer, not something that has been fed to them in the way a leading question would do, where the question contains the answer or presumes to contain the answer.

An example of a leading question would be a salesman talking to a customer and saying, “I can see you agree that this product works really well, it’s in the right colour and it’s something that you would like to own, isn’t it? This leads the client to answer the way that the questioner wants.

This is not what a good coach would do. They would ask a reflective question, such as: “When you scored your goal in last weeks match, how did it make you feel?”

“When you go home at night to an empty house what is it that allows you to relax?”

“You started to tell me about the bullying at your school, what did you do differently to avoid it?”

These types of questions allow the client to fully explore their knowledge of a situation and to give voice to the emotions they felt at that particular time and how they dealt with it, or not, which will allow the coach to ask other questions to let the client find alternative ways to move forward towards their goal.

2. Incisive questions

An incisive question can interrupt and destabilise a limiting belief that the client has. Your client wants to gain two A levels, history and geography to get accepted onto a course that would lead them towards the career that they are passionate about, they however have a limiting belief that because no-one in their family has ever achieved academic success, they won’t either. So to get them to put their limiting belief to one side for a moment the question to put to them could be: “Imagine that when you take your A levels you know that you would pass, and having succeeded in getting top grades what would you plan for your future career?”

This allows them to see through the obstacle they have placed in their path to obtain the goal. The client feels that this is fun way of putting their limiting belief out of action for a short while and the first part of the question allows them to move past it, the second part of the question becomes something more substantial and they can feel that this could be a future reality.

When you get a “don’t know” the best question to ask is: “What if you did know?”

3. Presupposition questions

When your client is stuck or fixed to a particular way of thinking and acting to the same situation, a presupposition question can get them to alter their approach. Your client has said that they get annoyed at the way their parents seem to be telling them off all the time. The biggest problem as it appears to them is at mealtimes. They don’t want to eat the dinner that’s put in front of them and they don’t want to eat with the rest of the family because it always ends up in a row, so their answer to this problem is to storm out and go to their bedroom. So to get them to explore other ways of dealing with this is to ask a question or series of questions that the brain will automatically allow answers to.

“Who is the person that gets most upset when this happens?” They will know that through this question people are getting upset and will answer.

“What is one thing that you could do to improve mealtimes?” This will get them to think that things will improve and will provide options.

“When will you help to set the table?” One of the options they provided, this is getting agreement on a course of action that the brain has accepted can happen.

Getting your client to put forward options which would make it possible to resolve the mealtime issue means that through the questions that you have asked the fixed process that your client used to handle the situation has been broken.

If you want to help your client is the only way to do that is to know which type of question to ask at the right time? Well yes, but something to consider is that children ask questions at the right and wrong times, but they still get answers!

David Kentish is an experienced Youth Coach; you can contact him on

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