The power of questions
Coaches sometimes offer suggestions to their coachees, and managers often issue instructions. But the most powerful coaching is non-directive: it is based on asking excellent questions – especially when there is a Gordian Knot of a predicament that cannot be untied, and so must be cut instead.
The power of the non-directive approach is confirmed by the findings of neuroscience.
- Coaching is usually employed when the coachee would perform better by doing something in a way that differs from the hitherto habitual way, or requires seeing something in a new light.
- Yet, when confronted with a new way of doing something (even if from a suggestion that is believed to be well-intentioned), the brain reacts adversely. Specifically, a region called the anterior cingulate cortex starts to register a conflict versus the brain’s existing schemas, and the amygdala sounds an alarm to resist.
- By asking an excellent question, the coachee’s alarm system is to some extent bypassed and his or her brain becomes engaged in a process of exploration rather than of defence.
The page opposite offers the coach a selection of ways in which to help the coachee explore issues from new and productive angles.
|Perspective: from …||Example coaching question|
|Afar||Is this the right issue to be addressing?|
|Above (Super-Ego)||How would you explain this to a person strongly affected by your decision?|
|Left (logic)||What does your head tell you?|
|Right (emotion)||What does your heart tell you?|
|Behind (the past)||Which route is most consistent with your life/values/success formula so far?|
|In front (the future)||How does this fit with your picture of where you want to be?|
|Below (fears)||Are you operating out of fear; is this good?|
|(Imagined) retrospect||Imagine you have already chosen the course of action – now tell me why you chose it?|
|Someone else’s point of view||How would he/she/your ally/your enemy/your father/your mother etc react? [or want you to react?]|
Other powerful questions examples
- What do you want?
- What’s holding you back?
- What is it costing you to continue holding back?
- How do you want to change your mind’s programming on that topic?
- What new habits will you put in place to fortify your new mindset?
- What is the most meaningful action you could take now?
- What new skills or support systems will ensure your success?
Anatomy of a Powerful Question
All powerful questions:
- Come from a place of genuine curiosity.
- Are direct, simple and usually open-ended.
- Generate creative thinking and surface underlying information.
- Encourage self reflection.
Credit: material is adapted from here.