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The 6 Coaching Questions You Don’t Want To Ask

What would a professional coach be without questions, especially powerful and empowering questions?

Every coach knows that along with the skill of listening, powerful questioning is the key skill to master to Be Brilliant at what you do. Effective, empowering questions evoke inspiration, creativity, motivation, and self-discovery for your clients.

But what about the powerful questions that are not so powerful that you don’t want to ask?

Here are six coaching questions you want to avoid asking your clients in any session. Ask only powerful and empowering questions that make your client shine.

#1 Why ?’s

You start asking this question just as a very young child…. because why? You were curious, eager to learn new things. You wanted answers. As a child learning about life, this might be a very appropriate question because it did give you answers, well sometimes of course, till the adult got tired of answering because they just didn’t know the answer to why.

In a coaching session, why can feel overwhelming. Why questions are too big, they cause clients to go into their left-brain thinking of reasoning and rationalizing. Truly powerful questions access your clients’ creative right-brain thinking so they can create possibilities and solutions.

Why questions can also create defensiveness. You always want to maintain rapport with your clients and an atmosphere of safety and trust.

So when you feel the urge to ask a why question, see if you can rephrase it to What is it about…..

“Why are you upset about this?” Rephrase to: “What is it about this situation that upsets you or you find upsetting?

#2 Stacking ?’s

You love asking powerful questions, right? Do you sometimes have so many questions to ask you just don’t know which one to ask first and so you decide to ask them all…. one after the other?

Or maybe you ask the question and there is a pause from your client, so you are sure that they must need another better, clearer question to answer, so you ask yet another one before they answered the first one.

Or how about this, you ask a question and it doesn’t feel quite like the question you wanted to ask, so you immediately rephrase it until it feels right…to you.

Now you are left with a client who is confused and uncertain as to which question they should answer.

When you ask a question, your client immediately starts to process that question. When you ask another question right after that, now you have interrupted their thought process.

They are trying to follow it all but they feel confused and unclear how to answer. This is not empowering for your client.

Ask one question, let that question be heard and processed. To be a brilliant coach it is so important for you to be comfortable with silence and pause to allow your client to be with the question and allow their brilliance to shine.

#3 Long-Winded ?’s

Do you ever ask questions like this:

“How do you know that you are not a good writer because I heard you say that you have written lots of good articles and you know that writing articles is not one of your strengths but you did it, so what else might it be telling you about your ability to write well or even if you are a good writer and what if you could write well, what would you do differently?”


Convoluted, long-winded, complicated questions are the cousins to Stacking ?’s and they make your client confused and uncertain about what they are responding to or even how to respond. Here is where the session can take a U turn instead of forwarding-the-action.

Keep your sentence structure simple and your questions succinct.
Your questions must be clear and to the point.

Avoid long-winded explanations. If you want to point out an observation, then do that first then ask your question in relationship to that observation.

The above question might sound more like this:

“I heard you say that you have written many good articles. I’m curious, what makes you think you are not a good writer? “

STOP! Wait for your client’s response. This may mean that you have to be comfortable with pause. Your next question will emerge from there. Remember: KISC—Keep it simple coach!

#4 Rhetorical ?’s

Are rhetorical questions the kind of questions you ask but don’t really want an answer?

Rhetorical questions are questions that we use more as a statement for effect with no answer expected. The answer may be obvious or implied by how the question is posed.

These questions are asked when you are make judgments or interpretations of what it is your client is sharing with you and can sometimes lead to “I don’t know” answers.

A rhetorical question might sound like this:

How are you going to find the time to get the plan done if you don’t have the time?

How will you plan to get that done without a plan?

Instead, you might ask the above question in this way:

How much time do you think it will take you to create the plan?

When you feel the urge for a rhetorical question coming on… STOP! Take a step back and self-manage your interpretation of the issue. Be curious; ask clarifying questions, so that you know what the client means from their perspective. From here you can ask the empowering and powerful questions that will keep the client moving forward with objective and clear support.

#5 Leading ?’s

As a coach, you trust that your clients have the answer but how many times do you have the urge to just tell them what to do? Instead, you might just ask a question that might lead them to what you have in mind. It’s still a question, right?

Yes, but not a very empowering one. Leading questions are just a clever way to direct the client’s thinking or perspective on an issue in the way that you think they should consider. The client hasn’t referenced it himself and you think it is just what he needs to do.

STOP! Stay with what the client is telling you and ask questions based on that. What you think is best, may not be the solution for your client.

A Leading ? might sound like this:

You are clearly overwhelmed. How about approaching this one step at a time and create a plan?

What about just asking for the extra time you need?

Instead, you could rephrase to a more empowering question:

What you are saying is you feel overwhelmed, what is a possible approach you could take considering your situation?

Really trust that the client knows what to do and how to do it. Stay just with what the client is saying and ask your questions from there. Trust the coaching process and resist the urge to lead them in a certain direction.

#6 Close-ended ?’s

Last but not least, close-ended questions. Of course, you know not to ask close-ended questions. You received good training, right? So at all costs avoid these bad boys. They are nothing but bad news because they just don’t give your clients the chance to tap into their brilliance.

Close-ended questions are limited and access only the left side of the brain to elicit a yes or no answer. We know that in conversation we ask these types of questions all the time and no one ever just answers yes or no, they tell you the story, of course.

In a coaching session, to truly Be Brilliant at what you do, your questions have to be open-ended, empowering, powerful and thought provoking questions that probe, inspire, motivate and create greater self-awareness. Here the client can access the right side of the brain where creativity, possibility and opportunity are waiting to emerge for them. Empowering, open-ended questions are a win-win—you get to Be Brilliant and your client gets to shine.

Here’s what you need to remember from this article to Be Brilliant at what you do:

Avoid these 6 confusing questions in every session:

1Why ?’s

2Stacking ?’s

3Long-winded ?’s

4Rhetorical ?’s

5Leading ?’s

6Close-ended ?’s

Instead, ask empowering and powerful questions that are always thought provoking, succinct, inspiring, motivating, open-ended and invite self-awareness.