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Qualifying Marker #5: Powerful Questions

Curiosity is the primary skill of coaching. Along with empathetic, finely-tuned listening, asking questions is your principal tool as a coach, and it is the one that allows you to create value for your client. The ICF promotes the term Powerful Questions as the name of this competency. Do not feel pressured to craft big, muscular questions that go deep and create huge lightbulb moments every other minute. Instead, effective coaching questions are open, with an invitation to explore new territory. Keep questions simple and curious.

Does the coach ask questions about the client?

In the Learn-Be-Do model of coaching, how your client is being is perhaps the most challenging aspect of asking questions. Here, the ICF wants to see a coach help their client better understand their characteristics and ways of being. Assessors are looking for evidence of you using curiosity to ask about a client’s values, perspectives, assumptions, goals, and big dreams. However, these questions should always loop back into the present.

Does the coach ask the client questions beyond where the client is now to explore new territory?

This question is pinpointing the coaching skill of using curiosity with intuition and creativity. This involves asking questions that might help clients think about new ways of viewing themselves and their characteristics. For example, a coach might use a metaphor, followed by a question around a certain strength, to help the client gain a new perspective about him or herself: “If this strength were a superpower, what other characteristic would you need to develop to make your superpower really effective?” 

Does the coach ask questions that help the client explore new territory regarding the situation?

Much like the marker above, this marker looks at whether or not the coach helps the client think differently about the situation based on their current circumstances. The coach’s job is to evoke insight from the client and help clients see things with fresh, new eyes. You can combine curiosity with simple questions and look at different ways to approach present circumstances. For example, let’s say a client is wrapped up in thinking about having a problem, but you ask the question, “What’s the gift of this situation?” This could shift your client’s thinking about the problem and even spark a bit of excitement. Such a little shift can make a big difference in the effectiveness (and motivation) to follow through on actions.

Does the coach ask client-centered questions about what the client wants?

Asking questions about what a client really wants is the foundation of coaching. At times, the challenges seem so large that hope is hard to find. This marker checks on your ability to ask the client about future outcomes and goals and how well you explore those goals to create more clarity and insight. Having a strong vision for the future helps clients see through problems and encourages motivation.

Does the coach ask simple, clear questions, slowly, one at a time?

The ICF is looking for you to match the pace of your client in your questions, as well as your comfort level with asking only one short question. That’s it. A habit many new coaches have is the need to keep talking and over-explain the question they just asked. Overcoming this habit is probably one of the biggest challenges of a new coach.

Does the coach ask questions using the client’s words, learning style, and frame of reference?

This marker points back to coaching’s roots in Neuro-Linguistic Programming, where it was considered extremely important to ask questions using either visual, audio, or kinesthetic words that match the client’s speech. It used to be essential to build rapport and be an effective practitioner. You can hit this marker by asking questions using the same verbs as your client and by picking up on different elements of your client’s language and incorporating them into the questions you ask.

Does the coach ask questions that don’t have a hidden agenda or built-in conclusions/suggestions?

This marker is short and simple, but it’s the skill coaches often have to work on most. It’s easy to avoid when we practice simple, open-ended questions. Like, “What emotions came up then?”

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