Sunday, August 21, 2011

Do You Open Doors in Your Coaching Conversations?

Use open-ended, non-leading questions to get the most information

Nine times out of ten, open-ended, non-leading questions will be the best question type to use in your coaching conversations. They will get you information quickly, without unduly influencing the direction of the conversation. You will notice that these questions often begin with “how” or “what”.

— “What options are you considering?”

— “What are the consequences if you do nothing here?”

— “How would the other person involved describe this situation?”

— “What would you really like to see happen here?”

— “What alternatives could you pursue to reach your ideal state?”

Often, in our attempts to be helpful and to help our associates solve problems, we begin asking leading questions, which are often closed-ended. If you look at the sample questions below, you will see that these are really “advice disguised as questions.”

— “Have you talked to Bill about that?”

— “Have you thought about doing X?”

— “Did you try Y?”

Imbedded in each of these leading questions is the coach’s own opinion or ideas on how best to solve the problem. When any of us are asked a series of closed-ended questions, we may begin to feel interrogated.

A unique exception:

Questions that begin with “why” may be open-ended, and non-leading. However, these questions will often put the receiver on the defensive. Consider how you would feel if someone asked you, “Why did you do that?” or “Why would you go that route?” We immediately feel like we need to “defend” our position. Therefore, try rewording your “why’s” into “what’s” or “how’s” instead, e.g. “What led you to that decision?”


  • Prior to your next coaching conversation, prepare a list of questions that you would like to ask your coachee. Scan the questions and determine how many are truly open-ended, non-leading questions.
  • During your coaching conversations, try to “catch yourself” asking closed-ended, leading questions. These will often begin with the words “do you” or “have you”. Try to reword these questions so that they are non-leading and open-ended, using words like “what” and “how” instead.