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To question or not to question…….

An article last year  by Linda Aspey – see below – really caught my eye.  In it she explores our prized coaching tool- our questioning technique.  More than that, Linda alerts us to the way we coaches habitually question our clients and she invites us to consider the potential effects of relentless questioning:

“Whenever we ask a question, it has the potential to influence the client. As soon as we take the lead, we’re inevitably, consciously or unconsciously, bringing in our own agenda. Even in some of the most precise and prescribed forms of coaching and counselling, the questions – and how we ask them – will come from within us.”

When I read this, I am  already thinking about who is really leading a session and about the flow of energy between coach and coachee. Perhaps non-directive coaching is just a fantasy. Linda goes on:

“Sometimes we feel under pressure from the client to ask questions, or use them as a way of managing our own anxieties about just sitting there ‘doing nothing’. We might use questions to show care, empathy, interest, supremacy, knowledge, and even to compete. I wonder if coaches are particularly prone to this because of the drive for achievement inherent in coaching? I’ve seen forum postings asking ‘What’s your favourite/most powerful transformational coaching question?’ and been fascinated at the competition to come up with the most brilliant.”

I have noticed these forum postings too and indeed how often they appear; I remember when I started out as a coach having a list of coaching questions by my side to support the conversation!  I was very inexperienced then and unaware of what makes for a spacious, adult-to-adult dialogue in which the coachee can actually hear themselves think.  Linda then refers to Nancy Kline’s superb Time to Think work:

“Built around what she calls the Ten Components – ways of thinking and being that help thinking, with attention, ease and equality at the core – it means choosing to deploy the lowest number of coaching interventions possible. Why? So the client can go to the edge of their own thinking in their own way.

Sessions start with the simple question ‘What would you like to think about today, and what are your thoughts?’ And then I listen. if we create the right conditions for the client to explore their thinking, they will generate their own questions, which are usually far better than ours. They may not even need to say them out loud (some of my clients say very little but think a lot) but they will most certainly produce them when we give them quality time to think. Nine times out of 10, people will say more when invited to with the simple question ‘What more do you think, or feel or want to say?’ when the conditions are right. Pure, clean and simple, with no other agenda than enabling the client to think for themselves. “

I love this – a perfect demonstration of how to get out of the way, let the coachee do the work and keep our presence clean. I think that we can all consider asking fewer questions and listening more.  What would help you to do that?  What would need to change in your understanding of the coaching relationship for you to intervene less??

Edna Murdoch  February 2013


 These articles were first published in AICTP journal, Summer/Autumn 2012. Reprinted with permission.”,uk

If you want to read the AICTP journals, click here;