Sunday, May 2, 2010

A Coaching Conundrum

I have a coaching client who is trying to improve his coaching skills. He asked me a very good question via email, and I answered him. I believe this content would be useful for many of us who are trying to improve our coaching effectiveness. Here was our electronic dialogue:

Client Question:

We talked about “powerful questions” and about “awareness” quite a bit yesterday, and you once again commented on how awareness connects back to powerful questioning.

Here is my issue: We use these terms so much that they have become coaching jargon and I am afraid that I don’t really get the clear meaning of these very critical terms. What is a powerful question in this context? Also, I have some confusion about awareness. Awareness of what? If I could better relate to just what this awareness looks like it would be very helpful. Sometimes I feel like we are hiding behind these terms like “powerful questions” and “awareness” and they feel very vague to me. I hope this doesn’t sound stupid or crazy to you and I just know that more clarity on this would be a huge stepping stone toward my progression as a coach.

My Answer:

I can appreciate the importance of wanting to "get" powerful questioning and awareness. Here's the deal...if you can ask questions that lead the client to greater awareness about their situation (stuff they hadn't thought of or seen before themselves), you are helping to create greater awareness for the client into his/her issue. Almost by definition, we would say that the questions you used were therefore powerful. Powerful questions might:

  • Invite insight into a situation
  • Help the client discover new connections or a different angle on their situation
  • Connect dots together where there weren't any before
  • Explore the emotional landscape for the client
  • Create cognitive dissonance which fuels the client to take action

Usually powerful questions are open-ended. However, sometimes scaling questions can be powerful for the client: "On a 1 - 10 scale, how important is this for you?" (Sometimes clients will say, probably only a 4, when before that it sounded like it was a 10. Just having to name the importance often creates awareness and clarity for the client.)

Here's another powerful question: when a client is saying "my boss has it in for me," try asking, "how would your boss describe what is happening?" This helps the client see the situation from the boss's point of view, and this usually creates greater awareness that had not been there before.

Some other powerful questions might be:

  • “What would you be willing to do to change this situation?"
  • "How motivated are you to change this?"
  • “What is the cost of not changing?"

Almost any of these would all likely be questions that the client had not yet asked himself.

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