Powerful questions

One of the core competencies of coaching is asking powerful questions. These, as defined by the International Coach Federation, are “questions which move the client toward what they desire, not questions that ask for the client to justify or look backwards.”

Powerful questioning is also a useful skill in situations where it is important to move forward or find a solution, like project review meetings and status updates. So often these can turn into blaming marathons focused on “how we got into this mess” rather than how we move forward. There is also a place for non-judgemental retrospective assessment and review where a competency like ‘creating awareness’ might come into play; a topic to explore in a future post. Today’s focus is on questions that open us up to the future.

There are a few features of powerful questions: they are open-ended, they aren’t leading towards a particular outcome that the questioner already has in mind, and they do not limit the range of possibilities available. In coaching, we often avoid the question “why?” which can imply a need for justification or rationale; it almost seems to have a criticism subtly built in. It can also be overly focused on something that already occurred without being forward moving towards what’s next.

Powerful questions are often deceptively simple. In the early days of my coach training we did an exercise where the only thing the coach was allowed to say or ask during the entire session was “What do you think, feel, or want to do now?” These remain some of the most powerful sessions I experienced as a coach and a coachee. Removing the need to ‘wow’ the coachee with a series of dazzling questions or reflections, the coach could focus on where to find the power in that single phrase. By simply giving the coachee the space to reflect, learn and set intentions, it becomes clear that a powerful question is one that empowers the coachee to be in the driver’s seat on the journey towards their goal.

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