Guidelines To Asking Questions
Making good use of questions in a Life Coaching session can help the client to feel their presenting issue is heard, acknowledged and respected by the Life Coach. However, working with useful questions is just one of the many tools the Life Coach has at their disposal and must be used sparingly. The counsellor must frequently ask themselves what they want to achieve with each question; who they are asking the question for (them or the client); and if it is assisting or hindering the helping process. If not used with a delicate approach, questions can make the client feel interrogated and unsupported, and may start to drive the client away from the therapist.
Clients come to Life Coaching to feel that they are being listened to with sensitivity and empathetic understanding as they try to make sense of their situation. Some issues may need time to unfold as the client explores their thoughts and feelings around what they are experiencing. Therefore, “the golden rule when therapy is to use your ears and eyes more than your mouth!”
Counsellor’s should pay special attention to asking one useful and structured question at a time, and then be patient as the client works with the answer. The therapist must be aware of what is being said, how it is being said, and even what is not being said in response to the question. Clues about potential answers and solutions may spontaneously arise, and this should be the reason why the Life Coach chooses each question.
Questions should be used to clarify and probe deeper into the meanings and feelings the client is experiencing about their issue and should not be used to simply satisfy the therapist’s curiosity.
When working with questions Coach’s should mostly use open questions as these allow the client to get in touch with their feelings about the subject. Open questions will bring out any personal meanings, associations, assumptions, beliefs and values about what they are trying to say. They serve as an invitation for the client to openly talk and explore their situation in a way that will make them feel safe from judgement and/or criticism. Coach’s can then work with the answers to understand how best to serve the client.
Open questions will often begin with “How”, “Where”, “When”, “What” and “in what way” to mention a few.
Open questions can lead on to working with Socratic questions which serve to help the client generate new ideas and more positive beliefs about themselves. Socratic questions provide the opportunity for the client to explore deeper levels about their beliefs and assumptions. This then can help the client to evaluate the usefulness and/or limitations of such beliefs and assumptions, and then to alter or dispose those aspects that are not conducive to the client’s growth.
Socratic questions should either provide 1) clarity, 2) probe assumptions or 3) probe reasons and evidence.
1) Questions for clarity:
· What do you mean by… ?
· What do you think is the main issue here?
2) Questions that probe assumptions:
· What are you assuming, and is that always the case?
3) Questions that probe reasons and evidence:
· How do you know that?
· What difference does that make?
“Why” questions can often feel accusatory and may elicit a defensive response from the client. “Why” questions should be used very sparingly and only if it serves a valuable purpose. If not used correctly, “why” questions can create a disconnect between the client and the counsellor and may prevent the client from feeling safe to be open and vulnerable enough to explore deeper into their issues.
Leading questions are biased and imply the answers that the questioner would find acceptable. They are instructive and may make the client feel judged if their answer is not in accordance with the underlying instruction. For example, if the therapist says: “You wouldn’t leave him for that, would you?” This puts immense pressure on the client to agree with the counsellor. Therapist’s can have a great amount of authority during a Life Coaching session in the eyes of a client, so counsellor’s must be sure to never impose their will on the client.
Closed questions should only be used for information gathering or to know specific facts about the client. Clients will often answer closed questions with one word responses such as “yes”, “no” or “maybe”; short sentences such as “I don’t know”; or nonverbal responses such as a shrug of the shoulders, or a head nod. They don’t allow a deep exploration of their concern as closed questions don’t seem to make good use of the emotions and feelings associated to the problem.
General Rules For Questioning
· Use open questions when possible.
· Avoid closed questions which invite ‘ yes ’ or ‘ no ’ replies, except when requiring the client to be more precise or when seeking specific information.
· Use indirect questions as a softer approach.
· Use questions sparingly.
· Be aware that some forms of questioning can suggest disapproval or criticism.
· Use one appropriate question at a time.
· Check the purpose of your question before you go ahead.
· Be aware of the tone of your voice, the speed of the question, how it’s generally delivered and the message it might convey.
Improving My Skills as a Life Coach
I realise how delicate this relationship is that I am building with my clients. My clients are hoping to be in an environment where they can feel safe to freely express themselves without fear of judgement or criticism. I must adhere to the highest standards and respect my role in this relationship. Intelligent and well-timed questions are a great asset for me to use when appropriate. When working with questions I must always ask myself why I want to ask the question and how will it benefit the conversation.
Thanks for reading,
Donovan – Life Coach