Coaching questions all managers should know

Coaching questions all managers should know

A person's arm pointing at a sign that says "Asking Questions" - Coaching Questions for ManagersGood Coaching Questions for Managers to use with People

If you are managing and leading people, learning the art of asking good coaching questions is a highly desirable and I’d say, an even necessary skill. Coaching someone to discover the answer rather than telling them the answer helps to ensure that they really own the solution.
Learning to ask good coaching questions will help your people grow personally and professionally in relation to their own self confidence.

As a manager, using coaching questions is not always an easy thing to do when you are busy and under pressure though; it is all too easy just to tell someone what they need to do and move onto the next task.

So read on to discover some useful coaching questions managers should really know when leading a team of people. Learning to ask good questions is a skill that can definitely be learned and can be easily practiced.

Types of Questions

I want to highlight four different types of questions you need to be mindful of and hopefully use well:

  1. Closed Questions (Yes/No answers)
  2. Open Questions (Cannot answer with yes/no)
  3. Leading Questions (Lead the person towards your way of thinking)
  4. Probing Questions (Great for getting more information)

So lets look a little deeper into these four different types of questions to see how you might use them on a daily basis when managing others.

Closed Questions

These are useful when you are trying to force someone to take a position but note they can be too easily answered without having to think too much or give any reasons for the answer they give. An example would be:

Are you OK with completing the project on time”?

Are you feeling okay about all this“?

Naturally, he information you get from this type of question is very limited. More likely a simple Yes or No with a qualifier or two thrown in perhaps at best. If you use them, you should try to follow them up with some form of probing question as discussed below.

Open Questions

Open questions on the other hand, elicit much more information and as such are very powerful in that they may reveal underlying issues not readily apparent to you. They generally start with; what, or how or similar. An example would be:

“What are the issues you are likely to encounter as you complete this?”

“What is stopping you from taking action on this?”

You can easily see this requires the person to think a lot more about the question you have asked.

Leading Questions

Leading questions are yet another category of questions that certainly have their place, but unless you want to be in detective or lawyer mode, it is best to use these sparingly.  An example would be:

Are you thinking you will choose Sam to help you with this project?” or

“Are you thinking the problem might be a lack of commitment by some people”?

You can see with both examples, a person runs the risk of preempting something that the person may not even be thinking of or you may close off other potential lines of enquiry.

Probing Questions

Finally, Probing questions are very useful in eliciting even more information. I have found them especially useful after I have asked a closed question; sometimes accidentally. An example would be:

So tell me more about that”? Or

What else have you already tried”?

Avoid WHY

It is generally advisable to avoid asking questions that begin with “Why”. Asking the “WHY” question puts the other person on the defensive immediately. They now need to justify their position. If you are problem solving a solution to a problem it can of course be relevant, but when dealing with your people it can be problematic to use Why.

Asking “WHAT” questions will help you uncover the thinking behind their decision.

Sounds easy, but in truth it takes practice to do this. Let’s say for instance, that one of your staff members tells you what they are going to do to solve a particular problem.  As you hear them telling you, you realise you don’t agree with their solution or you are worried that is might not work.

You could ask; “Why are you doing it that way”? But a better coaching question to ask is something like;  “What outcome are you looking for by doing it this way”?

I am sure you can see that the second question is a far better option in most instances. It avoids the person going immediately on the defensive and it will make the person think a little deeper into the reason they’ve chosen a particular action.

Coaching Questions for Managers to useA green question mark - Coaching Questions for Managers

So here is a list of some good coaching questions you as a manager can use when leading your team. You should modify and add to these to your heart’s content of course. They need to work for you.

  • What exactly are you trying to achieve here? What outcome are you looking for?
  • What have you tried so far? What have you tried before?
  • What is likely to happen if you do that? (or, What is likely to happen if you do nothing?)
  • When might you use that?
  • What other way might this be resolved?
  • What is the first thing you feel needs to be done here?
  • How might you resolve this situation?
  • Tell me how you plan to make this happen?
  • So tell me more about this?

Coaching Questions for Managers around Ownership

Another angle on this is to consider asking questions that help ensure the person you are dealing with owns the issue or problem. Examples would be:

  • What would it mean to you if you were to achieve this? …or resolve this etc.
  • How will this impact the team/the organisation if this doesn’t get done?

And don’t forget to probe further. A few good probing questions might be useful:

  • What else?
  • What more could you do?
  • What might stop you from getting this done?

I think you get the idea. There are a myriad of other questions you could ask too of course. I encourage you to develop your own list and practice using them. You will learn what works for you and those that fit your own particular style.

And here’s 4 questions to ask before you attend your next meeting

See our Personal Effectiveness Coaching program here

Geoff Prior

Lingford Consulting – The Productivity Specialists

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