Updated: Oct 23, 2022
Listening, not talking, is the key to being a successful coach. Why? Because coaching is inherently other-centric. When you can effectively listen to another person, you actively demonstrate your interest, engage his or her story, and build trust. And, as a listener, you will learn a new perspective, gain valuable insights, and empower your client by letting them solve their own issues. Listening is truly your superpower as a coach…and it starts with asking questions. I always considered myself a good listener but after years of consulting I found that I was very quick to offer solutions and solve problems. Two skills which aren’t needed in the coach/client engagement. At first, I found it very difficult; and questioned how I could provide value without providing answers. Little by little I began to see that effective listening was the only way I could provide value as a coach, and quickly discovered that the key to listening is asking questions. Open questions are essential to getting someone else to talk and are the best way to keep yourself firmly in the listener’s seat. At first, I had to create a list of questions to refer to in my sessions, and I had to hold back my urge to share my POV. Over time I found that I had built a solid skill set around posing questions that got my clients to share with me. Here are a few of my favorite open questions:
Tell me: This is one of my personal favorites. “Tell me” begs for more information, for the speaker to share and be open, and demonstrates interest. Instead of “what happened?” try “tell me what happened?” and you’re more likely to get a complex answer. People want the chance to share their POV so “tell me” is a great question to pose.
The 4 W’s: What, Where, When & Who. The 4 W’s are all about detail. These 4 words are all great to use when looking to understand the details about a situation or a decision. “What is one thing you could do to make this better?”, “where do you think you could focus your efforts?” “when did you notice things starting to shift?” or “who has made the greatest impact on you?” These questions allow your client to expand and share the details of the situation at hand. This gives you more clarity while allowing your client to become more focused on the details of the situations they face.
How: “How” is about process. “How” invites the speaker to share his thought process which helps you to understand how he approached the situation. “How did you come to that decision?” is an inviting way to ask for more information and gives the speaker a chance to analyze their actions so they can gain clarity on their own process. This then allows you to better understand what challenges they face and gives your client more ownership over her tasks and decisions.
Can or Could: These two are about permission. By using “can you” or could you” before an open question you’re asking the permission of the person you are engaging with which gives a little bit of power to her and demonstrates that she has a choice in answering. This is a good thing to add when you need to broach a sticky situation as it lets the speaker feel like she has control while demonstrating your consideration. “Could you tell me what you felt when that happened?” is very inviting vs. “why were you so angry when that happened? Which doesn’t allow for someone to open up and share.
You may be asking yourself: what about “why?” “Why” is troublesome and isn’t as open as you might think. “Why” puts people on the defensive. “Why did you do that?” assumes that the person did something and assigns blame. This is not as open as “tell me how you made that decision” which allows for the other person to share their thought process. I always encourage folks to stay away from “why” and then note what happens when they do. The secret to building your listening superpower is to start with open questions in every session with your clients. For me, as a new coach and longtime consultant it was a gamechanger. I quickly discovered that my clients didn’t need me to provide the answers and I began to see that they had all the best insights to solve their issues and reach their goals. This was incredibly empowering for them and asking questions easily kept me in my role as their coach. Questions let you develop your listening superpower which is invaluable in helping you become a more effective and confident coach in your sessions and your practice. Author: Kate Edwards, iCoach Global