Asking Diverse Questions In Search Of Direction

By Risto M. Koskinen (Finland)

Have you ever been coached – or coached your client – by repeating the same question over and over? A question most likely being: ‘And what else?’ I had such an experience years ago and found myself totally stuck, frustrated, and harassed. Repeating a single question like this can be a very powerful coaching tool, but as with any tool, it has its limitations, too.

A classic study by Elizabeth Loftus and John Palmer (1974) brought up how the wording of questions can distort the memory and even lead to adding false details. Their study showed that we tend to evaluate the speed of a car in an accident differently when the interviewer uses words smashed, collided, bumped, hit, and contacted. In a further experiment, the researchers noticed an element of confabulation, too: choosing the word ‘smashed’ more than doubled the amount of the participants who said they saw some broken glass (while there was none), compared to those who were told the car ‘hit’ another car.

My point here is threefold. First, sticking strictly to a single approach may lead to a dead end, with the client feeling stuck and unable to constitute a preferred personal or professional direction for his/her growth. Second, different types of questions reveal different types of answers: as coaches, we should be conscious of the purpose of our questioning. Third, using a wide array of questions helps to build up a more versatile picture, brings up new opportunities, and opens up novel perspectives.

Types of Questions for Coaches to Use

You may be an experienced coach with superb skills in posing questions but I bet most of us are more than often rutted and one-dimensional, relying upon our chosen professional process, practice, and framework. To protect me from this one-dimensionality I keep a ‘Questions Compass’ attached to the inside cover of my notebooks.

Reflective questions refer to our experiences. They are about learning and honing our solutions and processes. They are about inside the box – how to better immerse ourselves in learning from experience.

  • What did happen? What was my reaction? How did I feel?
  • What worked, and what did not work?
  • How can we do better next time?
  • Where were we bringing stress upon ourselves during the process?
  • What was the most important thing we can learn from this?

Perspective shifting questions are about the ‘altitude’ we look at the things. Quite often it is about taking a helicopter view, but the perspective can also be social, temporal, or functional, for example.

  • If you look at it from 10.000 ft. above, how does this look then?
  • If you would ask this from your boss/your friend etc., what would she/he say?
  • If you think of this in one (or 5 or 10) year span, what do you notice?
  • If you consider this as a liability, what will emerge?

Observation questions refer to ‘what is’. They are valuable to recognize functioning and underlying patterns.

  • What do see in this (situation)?
  • Who are the players here?
  • Which are the key elements this is consisting of?
  • How do you validate what you see?
  • How do you feel about this?

Source: iCN Issue 38  (Life Coaching: Professional Growth & Direction); pages 29-31

About Risto M. Koskinen

Risto M. Koskinen, MBA, CPC, is a certified Finnish coach and supervisor. He has made a long career in career coaching and career counselling as well as in teaching and social work. Today, as semi-retired, he is active on LinkedIn, with his weekly career-related posts. You can follow him at #CoachRisto.