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How To Ask Powerful Questions: A Key Skill in Co-Active Coaching

  • POSTED ON MAY 12, 2022
powerful questions
The Importance of Asking Powerful Questions in Coaching

For new coaches, coaching skills can sometimes feel awkward or “forced” in a coaching conversation. The good news is it won’t always be that way. Like learning any new language, for in many ways that is what coaching is, eventually the skills will be so fully integrated that Co-Active will be a way of “being” in every relationship instead of something you “do” only with clients. As a trained Co-Active Coach, you will naturally bring active listening, powerful questions, intuition, and other skills to every relationship. One of the many ways I use Co-Active coaching skills outside of my practice is to deepen personal relationships by asking powerful questions. Going deeper in any conversation, just like in a coaching engagement, can reveal what’s beneath the surface and create greater intimacy and connection for both parties.

See the Person Not the Problem

Likely we all have been in conversation with someone who doesn’t ask any questions. The conversation feels flat and one-sided because it is! You’re doing all the work, asking powerful questions, and the other person seems barely involved or invested. The other person may be quick to problem-solve or offer advice without curiosity or authentic engagement. They likely mean well, but it is as if you are a problem to solve rather than a person with whom to connect.

As Co-Active coaches, we’re trained to self-manage solutions, not because problem-solving is wrong, but because it mostly doesn’t work. Once when I was lamenting to a friend that I struggle to drink enough water (proper hydration continues to elude me), she off-handedly suggested I buy a refillable water bottle. Was this helpful? No. Did I feel seen and understood? Of course not. I know how to drink water; what I don’t know is why I can’t seem to make myself do it with any sort of regularity.

Asking the next powerful questions, such as “what would be different if you were drinking enough water?” or “in what other ways do you honor your health?” or “what do you notice when you don’t drink enough water?” or “what’s important about this now?” or even a saying a statement such as, “I can hear this is really frustrating to you” are all responses that deepen the connection and demonstrate an authentic interest in me as a person.

Asking Powerful Questions Is an Art Form

Often new coaches enthusiastically embrace the idea of asking powerful questions in coaching and do so with rapid-fire delivery: “How does that make you feel? What’s important about that? Where do you feel that in your body?” The coaching can start to feel more like an interrogation than a conversation. Instead, before rapidly firing powerful coaching questions, try pausing to ask yourself what’s not being said, what is my intuition telling me, what emotion am I sensing underneath the words. Be present to the possibility for this person rather than the problem. Stay where you are with this client for a moment and go deeper by asking powerful questions rather than rushing to get somewhere. There is plenty of time to get into action later in the session or conversation.

Powerful Questions Start with Purposeful Listening

New coaches sometimes rely on a list of “go-to” questions or solutions disguised as questions, such as “Have you thought about…?” I understand the temptation and invite you to set aside your list and lean into your listening instead. Your questions will then be more thoughtful and authentic. Then, lean in further and ask the next question. Think of powerful questions as a way to drop deeper into the relationship. With each thought-provoking question, you draw your client, partner, or friend closer. Or said another way: the first question lets the other person know you’re listening; the next question lets them know you care.

How about you — when was the last time you asked somebody powerful questions? What were the questions and how did they react? Share with us in the comments section below.
Written By

Julie Colbrese

Julie Colbrese is a faculty member of the Co-Active Training Institute and the founder of Hot Coffee Coaching, a leadership coaching practice for individuals, corporate clients, and coaches in certification and beyond. Find her @ Have your own sightings of Co-Active Leadership in entertainment or “in the wild”? Tell us about it in the comments below.

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