Asking Questions: The Key to Crucial Change

asking questions

I wish I could give you a magical formula for all the different types of questions and show you exactly how to ask them--and in which order— to ensure that each of your coaching sessions is as powerful as possible. The truth is, though, there is no single way to do this. Tapping into the Transformational Art of Asking Questioning will take a lot of experimentation on your part.

Even with 25 years´ experience under my belt, experiments in this area are still very much a part of my daily routine. I practice with my little girls and I practice with my wife. Essentially, I practice with everyone I have a conversation with.

Do the same and you will soon see for yourself just how powerful the questions I share with you here truly are.

The Impact of Listening on the Questions You Ask

Let me say it again:

Most people do not listen with the intent to understand. They listen with the intent to reply. Most people stop listening as soon as they think they know what you’re saying, so they can start formulating their response. When this happens, they naturally do not hear everything being said during the conversation at hand.

I want to suggest to you that the quality, the impact and the power of your questions is going to be directly proportional to the depth of your listening ability. As your listening ability increases, expands, widens, and deepens, your ability to ask even more powerful questions will evolve as well.

Here’s an interesting quote from Albert Einstein:

"If I had one hour to solve a problem, I´d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about the solution.”

In other words, with an hour to solve a problem that his life depended on, Einstein spent the first 55 minutes on determining the proper questions to ask in order to zero in on the solution.

So, which of the following is more empowering?

  • Making bold, brash statements to your clients
  • Inspiring them to ponder spiritual questions of depth
  • Sitting in silence with them while they access their internal wisdom
  • Asking questions to reveal the inner riches already inside of them

Each has its place. Each is important for you as an expert coach and consultant to be able to pull from your coaching toolkit. And because that's so, the focus of this article will be on introducing and practicing a series of powerful coaching questions to use in your own coaching business.

The Power of Asking Questions

When you tell someone something about, say, a behavior pattern you´ve noticed, or your perception of their personal situation, that person has it in their power to deny anything you say, whether they decide to share their denial with you or not.  However, if you can use a series of questions to get them to make similar remarks about themselves or their situation, they cannot deny it as they were the person who said it!

Developing the ability to ask the right question at the right time respects your client's ability to discover and access their internal riches.

Asking your client (or yourself) a question helps stimulate fresh thinking. These questions are crucial to challenging outmoded assumptions.

Questions help us create the future because by changing the present, by stimulating new behavior, you are actively influencing what lies ahead.

Powerful questions stimulate reflective thinking, generate energy and a vector to explore. In many cases, the same questions can be asked over and over again, touching off a deeper meaning inside of us each time - channeling new levels of inquiry, promise and insight.

This is profoundly impactful in terms of what your client is going after in life and how we, as coaches, are able to help them tap into a deeper level of meaning and transformation.

According to Einstein, we should never stop asking questions. But what kinds of questions will best serve you and your clients. Let's take a look.

The Many Different Kinds of Questions

Open Questions

These questions allow for the imagination and the breadth of your client's experience to be searched.

Questions like…

  • What would you like to achieve from the session?
  • How did you do that?
  • When have you achieved success in the past?
  • Who can help you achieve this?

After hearing your client out, you can also delve deeper by asking:

  • Tell me more…

Open questions allow for the imagination and the breadth of your client's experience to be searched. Quite often, even when you believe you know where your client is going with something, they can surprise you.

Questions, Insight & Unexpected Surprises

So, I said, “Well, worry is negative visualization, so you do visualize.” I then asked him what he would like to do when he wasn't busy in his position as a high-powered business executive and he said, “Well, I am a Reiki master.”

A Reiki master?

I ́ll tell you, that was the last thing I expected to come out of his mouth!

My next question was, “Well, how do you prepare for that?”  And he answered that he saw himself in a crystal cave, wearing a purple robe and a pointed hat with stars.

So, the point I'm making here is that there are often things we do in one aspect of our life that we can transfer into another aspect of our life. And, as a coach, you won’t find out about that unless you ask the kinds of probing questions I'm sharing with you here.

Want To Give Your Open-ended Questions a Power Boost?

Follow them by silence.

Give your clients a bit of time to respond, then go deeper by asking them to tell you more. You may also find it helpful to go back and forth between the two: asking an open question, asking for more info, then asking another open question.

Open questions are simple yes or no questions that can relax your client, particularly when they find themselves in a blind spot. From there you can take the conversation one step further with more leading questions such as  What if… or Have you considered such and such?

Questions are keys to learning.They’re also windows into creativity and insight. They help you expand possibilities and  discern what might be waiting to be discovered.

Asking your client (or yourself) a question is like a pattern interrupt. It helps you establish what's missing.

Questions help challenge outmoded assumptions. The first letter of the word belief is B. And the first letter of the word system is S. Much of what we believe is BS , stemming from conflicting beliefs in our brains that are all too seldom challenged.

And challenging is what you want to do as an expert coach and consultant:

Challenge outmoded assumptions.

Asking questions also gives you more context about a situation which helps you find even better questions to ask.

Curiosity Questions

This type of questioning serves to help you fulfill your curiosity and give you a deeper understanding about what your client is experiencing. They also demonstrate that you are interested and intrigued by something they have said or done.

For example, when I was a hypnotherapist, I once worked with an individual who had been referred to me by a psychiatrist. Starting the session, I said,  “Hi, I’m William.” And he replied, “Hi. I’m clinically depressed.”

Somewhat surprised at his response, I asked the first question that came to mind, “That’s who you are, clinically depressed?” Then followed that with another question, “ Well, I’m curious; how do you do that?”

He looked at me quizzically and asked, “What do you mean, how to do this?”

I said, “Well, you just told me you’ve been clinically depressed for 20 years. You’re an expert in it. How do you do that? Could you tell me?”

And then I was silent.

Sample curiosity question:

  • I'm curious as to how you do that. Could you tell me?

Clarifying Questions

Sometimes it can be difficult to understand how what your client is saying fits into any picture or pattern. That's when this type of question is particularly useful.

Sample clarifying question:

  • Could you be more specific, or tell me more about that?

Possibility Questions

Quite often, your clients will be so far in terms of possibility from what the possibilities really are, that you want to encourage them to stretch in that area.

Sample possibility question:

  • If there was absolutely no question of you failing...If you were guaranteed success, what would you do?

Golden Questions

These very impactful questions are great to use with clients - and equally great to ask yourself at the end of the day.

Sample golden questions:

  • If you had your dream, how would you feel?
  • What about feeling that way right now?
  • What are you proud of today?

Interpretation Questions

This is where we get into the heart of the matter because we are continually putting meaning  on things - on events, our opinions, our judgements.

We think our opinions are facts. And yet, they are not. They are merely interpretations.

Sample interpretation question:

  • What meaning do you put on that event?

Turn Around Questions

Sometimes, using the prefrontal cortex of the brain, a person can just make a decision and start doing something right away; start creating neural pathways immediately.

Sample Turnaround questions:

  • What could you do to start reversing this pattern today?
  • How could you turn this situation around today?

Magic Questions

This is the same question we discussed during the first session...and it is equally powerful in any setting - meetings, conversations or get-togethers.

Sample magic question:

  • What would make this a successful session (meeting, conversation, etc.) for you?

Pattern Interrupt Questions

This kind of question is designed to

  1. Disrupt your client’s current pattern of thinking and
  2. Guide their thoughts so that a new idea or question can be inserted to shift them away from the original thought pattern that has them stuck.

I remember a conversation with an individual about why people were not joining a health program they  were offering. They recounted a situation where a prospective client ́s husband would not give her the money to join because he thought it was too expensive. The person I was talking to had heard variations of this theme many, many times. And yet, her program had a 90% success rate and she was convinced of her ability to truly help people.

She told me, “I empathize with them because I ́ve been in similar situations where I didn’t want to ask my husband for money either.” Hearing that, I looked at her and asked, “Are you empathizing with them...or enabling them?”

Sample pattern interrupt questions:

  • What else could this mean?
  • Are you empathizing or enabling?

Key Moment Questions

This kind of question is used in that moment when you sense a flood of feeling in your client. That's the moment when they are experiencing some kind of breakthrough or they have had a sudden realization.

Sample key moment question:

  • What is that about (that sigh, pause, nervous laugh, etc.)?

Disempowering Questions

A lot of questions we ask ourselves are actually statements.

Listen carefully when your clients ask a question - is it a true question or are they making a statement about something that is a belief in their mind?

Sample disempowering questions:

  • Why am I so stupid? (i.e. This assumes the client believes they are stupid)
  • Why do I do this every time?

Empowering Questions

These are questions that open up a world of possibility.

I once spent months traveling between the chateau conference centers in France for a large financial institution and a large product distribution company in the Caribbean. Back and forth, back and forth. While that may sound glamorous, in actuality, living out of a suitcase for months on end was really quite tiresome. Upon my return home, I was confronted with hundreds of messages needing a response, twenty of which required my immediate attention.

Tired, frustrated and less than enthusiastic about dealing with the whole mess, I asked myself:

How can I return these 20 emails...and enjoy the process?

At which point, I made up a big pitcher of iced tea, stretched out in my backyard hammock and called each of the people on my list. I didn’t reach all of them, but I returned their calls and was at least able to leave a message.

Sample empowering question:

  • How can I do xxxx and enjoy the process?

Future Vision Questions

Like empowering questions, these are questions that open up a world of possibility and challenge people to focus on their future vision.

Sample future vision questions:

  • When do you want to start living your life without the brakes on?
  • Where can you envision yourself a year from now having accomplished all the goals that you have listed here?

Five Faithful Serving Men

And then we have what I call the Five Faithful Serving Men. Their names are Who, What, Why, Where and When.

Use these to ask about a goal or any other topic when your aim is to increase engagement with your client.

And finally, before I bring this important chapter to a close, here's a little (yet powerful!) secret for using all the questions I've shared with you:

Life itself is a wonderful experiment and it rewards those who experiment often! So, trust yourself, and experiment with asking powerful questions, while listening with intention to truly hear what they have to say.

Keep deepening your skills!

There are people out there who need to be coached. They have problems that need answers and they are waiting for you to coach them. They are waiting for you to ask the insightful and powerful questions that will lead them to the transformation they seek.

Asking questions is just one important tool for your success as a coach - if you´re ready to explore the whole toolbox, click here.


About the Author William Holt

William Holt is the go-to coach and trainer for executives & professionals wanting to transition to coaching as a way of sharing their professional expertise with the world. He is also an international speaker, author and the creator of the revolutionary Holt Coaching Certification Method.

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