Part # 3: The Power of Simple, Curious Questions
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Powerful questions are the main tools of what a coach actually does on a coaching call.If you’re interested in learning more, a good place to start is a review of our training programs page. Take a closer look at our Wellness Life Coaching, Academic Life Coaching and Executive Life Coaching programs. Another great next step is to speak with a Success Coach to explore launching a coaching career.
Let’s jump into the mechanics of powerful questions.
Simple, curious questions are an essential part of the life coaching skill set. These questions have two important requirements.
First, they need to be concise and directly to the point – ten words or less is a good rule. Second, these questions must be open-ended – avoid yes or no questions.
Simple, curious questions usually start with what, how, when, why, or what if. It is usually beneficial to avoid beginning a question with why because it tends to lead to defensive answers. Instead, phrasing a question like, “What are the reasons for…” usually gets to the point without implying judgement. However, asking a pointed why question every now and then if the client needs a little prodding can be very helpful.
When crafting a simple, curious question, your aim is to ask about something your client may not have considered before or something that your client would benefit from considering from a fresh perspective.
Examples of Simple, Curious Questions:
- What do you want to work on today?
- What is most important to you?
- What are you learning about yourself?
- What are you learning about the situation you are in?
- How will you know it is working?
- What does it feel like to accomplish something so significant?
- What if you change the way you define success?
Biggest Challenges for New Life Coaches
One of the biggest challenge faced by new life coaches is getting past the human reflex to offer suggestions. It is very common for new coaches to get excited about what their client is doing or capable of doing, and then respond with a long, often rambling, question that has a suggestion built in.
Here is an example of this type of question:
“So what I’m understanding is that you’re feeling frustrated that you don’t have enough time because you have too much to do and not enough time to do it in; but do you also see, perhaps, that there is an opportunity to use your calendar better and perhaps even set a few reminders throughout the day so that you make sure that your actions line up with what you’re really wanting out of your day?”
Using a calendar and setting reminders may be a great suggestion, and it is OK to make suggestions. However, when you make them, follow it up with a simple, curious question and release the desire for your client to think your suggestion is good. For example, you could say something like:
“It seems like you have an opportunity to use your calendar and set reminders. What are your thoughts on those tools?”
You could even leave out the suggestion completely and go with a question such as:
- When have you felt that you have organized your time well?
- What types of tools do you think may be helpful here?
- What has worked best for you in the past?
How to Create Simple, Curious Questions
Simple, curious questions can take some practice. It takes some time to get used to the flow of asking a question and then just pausing and giving space for your client to think and answer. The following steps can help you to create simple, curious questions:
- Check-in with yourself to make sure you are practicing empathetic listening (level 2)
- Tap into your natural curiosity. Hint: pick a word that jumps out at you from what your client said.
- Form your ‘what’ or ‘how’ question around that word or phrase.
- Keep it simple.
- Ask ONE question, then force yourself to stop talking.
- Breathe. Pauses are good and allow your client to process what they are thinking.
- Enjoy the process. Listening empathetically and asking open-ended questions are valuable gifts to give your client.
More Examples of Simple, Curious Questions:
- What is the benefit of doing ____?
- What is the cost of thinking that ____?
- How do you know it will be successful?
- What happens if you fail?
- After you accomplish this outcome, what is the next step?
- What stops you from getting the results you want?
- What causes you the most fear?
- How does that solution feel?
- How do you know?
- What else?
- Who do you want to become?
- What values are most important to you?
- What specifically about that value is exciting to you?
- What is your ideal solution?
- What is holding you back?
- How is your action aligning with your intention?
Ask a friend if they will be your “client” for a simple, 10 minute Life Coaching session to practice empathetic listening and simple, curious questions.
Have your friend do the Wheel of Life exercise, labeling sections with categories that are relevant to them.
Take a look at their Wheel of Life and ask them simple, curious questions that relate to different sections of their wheel.
Try not to overthink it. You can simply use many of the questions in the list above, which will provide your friend a ton of value!
Part Four: Coach the Client, Not the Problem.
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