Life coaching is more than just creating step-by-step plans for clients to follow. It’s about digging deep and understanding your clients’ motivations, needs, and life experiences, all of which can help you tailor your services and advice to their specific goals.
Of course, even the best life coaches can’t learn about their clients without asking questions. Today, we’ll break down the importance of asking powerful questions in life coaching and how to turn this necessary work into an art of its own.
Types of Powerful Questions
“Powerful questions” are any questions that cause your client to pause, reflect, and come to a new understanding about themselves. They’re much “deeper” or more important than surface-level questions.
Although powerful questions can vary heavily from client to client, there are three major types of powerful questions you can use in a coaching session. These include:
- Open-ended questions. They’re exactly what they sound like: questions intended to give your clients an open end to explore or discuss things without a specific end-point. These questions are useful if your coaching session is more about your client learning about themselves
- Reflective questions. These questions cause your client to reflect on their needs or wants. It can also be useful if you want a client to reflect on their previous behavior or self-destructive patterns. Say you’re working with a client who has difficulty concentrating at work or focusing when tough tasks need to get done. Asking reflective questions can help your clients realize a problem within themselves and take steps to solve it
- Probing questions. These are information-gathering questions perfect for helping you better understand a client’s needs or limits. For instance, asking a client, “Do you think getting a new job would make you feel happier overall?” could encourage a client to open up about themselves while simultaneously giving you more information to provide stellar coaching services
Techniques for Asking Powerful Questions
Although your clients will seek out your help voluntarily, they may not necessarily volunteer the right information you need to make judgment calls and provide life plans. As a life coach, you need to know how to ask powerful questions in the right way so your clients provide you with actionable answers.
Broadly speaking, there are three ways in which you can ask the powerful questions you need:
- Active listening
- Using silence
- Encouraging exploration
First, active listening is a technique that involves – you guessed it – actively listening to your clients when they tell you about their lives, desires, and more. Nod along, ask follow-up questions, and otherwise show your client that you are truly listening to what they have to say and absorbing that information.
This makes your clients more likely to open up to you and more receptive to the powerful questions you pose to them throughout a given session.
Next, using silence means providing moments of quiet in between questions and answers. Such a technique gives your clients a chance to reflect on their answers, expand upon previous answers, and consider their own needs more deeply. However, keep in mind that cultural differences in questioning can impact whether using silence is a wise idea for a given client. Some cultures may interpret silence to mean disinterest on your part.
Lastly, encourage your clients to explore their deepest desires and their responses to your powerful questions. In many cases, the first answer someone gives isn’t necessarily the most accurate one. Encouraging exploration or repeat answers can help clients dig out the “truth” of a matter.
For example, imagine that you have a client who’s reticent in exploring their true professional desires. They’ve had their career planned out by their parents for essentially their entire lives. By using silence and encouraging expiration, you can help the client discover what they want as an individual rather than framing their desires through the eyes of their parents.
Examples of Powerful Questions
Powerful questions come in a variety of forms. But it often helps new or aspiring life coaches to look at some examples so they know what to ask their clients.
Questions for Clarity
Questions for clarity are intended to clarify a fuzzy area or miscommunication. For instance, if you don’t quite understand what a client is getting at, you might ask:
- What makes you think that?
- Do you want to be in that position in three years? Five years? 10 years?
- What do you mean when you say that?
Questions for Self-Awareness
Questions for self-awareness are meant to help your client become more self-aware about their needs, problems, or roadblocks. In a hypothetical life coaching session, you might ask:
- Do you think that’s a desire you have or one that was imposed upon you?
- Where do you think that desire comes from?
- Why do you think you keep encountering that difficulty?
Questions for Goal-Setting
You might also need to ask a client about the kinds of goals they want to set. After all, lots of life coaching clients come to life coaches because they need direction. Some examples include:
- Where do you want to be in five years?
- What do you want to think about your life when you look back on it?
- What do you want to do in the short term future?
Overcoming Challenges in Questioning
Even with the above examples, you might encounter distinct challenges when you ask your life coach clients serious, powerful questions. It’s important to recognize and avoid major pitfalls like:
- Accidentally tripping over cultural miscommunications. Make sure you understand the primary culture of each client you work with to avoid inadvertently insulting them
- Not reading client cues or nonverbal communication signals
- For getting information about clients that they previously told you. Keep detailed notes throughout each session so you don’t ask repeat questions and accidentally signal to clients that you don’t respect them or their time
Ultimately, powerful questions result in better client outcomes across the board. Simply put, when a life coach knows more about their client, they’re better positioned to provide actionable advice and guidance regarding the client’s goals, job wants, and much more.