The leadership coaching process is about developing the individual being coached so that they learn to achieve with competence and confidence. Thus coaching must be a learning process for them, not a “do it the way I tell you” list of instructions from the coach! To achieve this, the coach must facilitate the process of exploration and discovery for the person being coached so that they can arrive at the conclusions for themselves. The coach will need to act as a guide and perhaps, if appropriate, provide instruction on specific skills.
In a mentorship relationship, often the purpose for asking a question is to stimulate a conversation – a dialogue – between the mentor and mentee. Open-ended questions are especially useful in getting conversations – and ideas – flowing.
In either a coaching or a mentoring relationship, your use of effective questions will help the person you are working with to gain clarity, understanding and perspective; to provoke deeper or alternative thinking and/or to challenge current thinking.
Here are three key types of high value questions.
Many individuals are acquainted with the term ‘open question’. Such questions start with “What?”, “Where?”, “When?”, “Who?”, “Why?” or “How?”. They encourage the respondent to think and provide detailed information instead of giving a simple “Yes” or “No” answer.
Open-ended questions promote interaction by drawing out responses, information and ideas. These questions begin with, who, what, where, when, why, or how, and cannot be answered with a simple yes or no. Open-ended questions bring out feelings and opinions, which adds depth to the information that you receive.
We are all familiar with scaling questions but probably do not use them much. They run along the lines of “On a scale of 1-10, where 1 is bad and 10 is exceptionally good, how would you rate the situation?” They can often be followed by the supplementary question “Why…?”.
Such questions force a different perspective on the situation, which means the other person has to think about it differently. Changes of perspective help to provide insight.
Silence, the Implied Question
When asking questions, we can be too ready to move on or offer clues as to what we think the answer should be. Other times we might not know what the next question ought to be.
In such cases, silence can be the most eloquent question, because it invites the other person to fill the gap, to respond to the implied request “Tell me more…”. They will tend to do this by volunteering more information resulting from associations and thinking more deeply. Consequently, their answers to the implied questions that silence suggests may be far more insightful than their initial response.
For this reason, the deliberate use of silence, while waiting to see if more is forthcoming, is a useful technique. Silences that are too long, however, should be avoided because they will seem threatening.