A Little Question with a Big Impact

When I’m delivering my “Coaching for Results” programmes, I’m often asked about my most effective or favourite coaching questions. I could roll out a string of quite long and impressive questions such as…

  • “If you had that in the way you wanted it, what would that do for you?”
  • “If fear wasn’t in your vocabulary what action would you take?”
    Or even the old
  • “If you went to sleep tonight and a miracle happened that resolved your issue or made your dream came true, how would you know it had happened?”

But my favourite questions aren’t big and they aren’t clever, and they really get below the surface and lead clients to dig deeper and get to the real nuggets. They are the questions that many people fail to ask at all, or don’t ask consistently and persistently enough to be effective.

Drum roll please…

I am now going to share a secret with you. The secret is that one of my favourite and most effective coaching questions is…wait for it…”What else?”

Okay, hands up if you feel let down or disappointed? Don’t be. Just try it.

  • When you are exploring how someone will feel when they achieve their goals, ask what else? And what else? And what else?
  • When you are considering the impact of not addressing a difficult issue ask what else? And what else?
  • When you are brainstorming options, or when you are considering all the things that could get in the way, ask what else?

You get the idea. At first it will feel uncomfortable and you may feel you can’t ask it again when you have already asked it twice in quick succession. Well that’s the time to ask just once more. I guarantee you, and more importantly the person you are coaching, will discover some hidden gems of insights, ideas, and solutions.

Next time I might introduce you to it’s cousins… “Because?…” and “Which means?…”

What are your favourite questions?

18 Responses to A Little Question with a Big Impact

  • Great post Julie. My favourite is “what do I need to do to help you succeed” or another version “what do I need to stop doing to help you succeed”

    So often it seems leaders and managers can get in the way of their people. This stops them coming up with their own answers which ultimately hinders their ability to build self belief and ultimately their own success.

  • One of my favorites — in response to “I don’t know” — is “If you did know, what would it look like?” I think I picked this up from “Fierce Conversations”. It is a really effective question and can be used in a lot of different forms.

  • Julie – love the dual simplicity and power that goes with the question. Nancy Kline’s Time to Think uses a similar approach – a striking question asked over and over as the coachee digs deeper and deeper.

    Your comment on the coach’s discomfort is interesting – you’re right- it seems that people often expect more complicated questions etc – and that often the coach and coachee isn’t comfortable either with the simple question reposed or … silence!!!

    And if the coach is coming up with more complicated questions – they’re thinking about those clever questions, not listening to the coachee. So more power to the simple question, I say!

  • My favorite question, both to myself and others: What am I (you) pretending not to know?

  • I was thinking if the answers are being record, they can be looked at to help stimulate the else – especially with problem-solving. Some times seeing two or more ideas that would not work by themselves will give rise either to a completely new idea or one that is an amalgamation of the ideas.

  • Great question and it does illicit some good responses and deeper thinking. I have one that my business coach asks me when I tell her about my ideas that I want to relate to my fans/clients. She says, “So What?” Good one, huh? For example, if I say, “I can teach you how to master social media” she says, “So what?” It makes me have to dig deeper and and get more details and exact. Works well when I’m brainstorming. Try it!

    • Hi Laurie. Yes it is a great question that I apply to good effect when creating marketing materials in particular. Thanks for sharing it.

      I don’t know that it would go down so well with coaching clients who had just shared a difficult problem they are facing. 🙂

    • I love the ‘so what’ question and tend to use it a lot in different guises. Recently I have been trying to sit easily with silence and avoid the need to rush in and fill ‘the gap’. I feel that it is important to constantly relearn the value of silence and benefits of reflection.

  • In the Twitter I “said” already, my first thought – by reading this post – was just to be present on a very fresh, dynamic and motivating brain-storming. Now, if I take a second look on the content (not stopping to ask further “What elses”) remind me on an ad in The Economist. I vaguely remember the details but there were two important elements: 1. Target is to be number one in th field (for the company) and 2. When achieved, to make the next meeting (to speak about how to go further) about the next “what elses”…

    • Yes. Asking “what else” prevents us from limiting ourselves to the first target, the first solution etc. It is effective in expanding our horizons, aiming higher, thinking more broadly or delving deeper, depending on the context. Thanks Miklos.

  • So what else,ok what happened tonight the dream come true, how i know what happened i feel it on my body or my mind.

    • Ah yes Josef, I believe you are referring to the miracle question. It’s also good to ask, what are you seeing, feeling and hearing that shows you your problem has been resolved.

  • Your suggestion of asking repeatedly “what else?” reminds me of the method Taiichi Ohno, the pioneer of Toyota’s production systems recommended to get to the root cause of a problem – asking “why?” five times.
    My clients often are asking for remedies of symptoms. To arrive at sustainable solutions I need to find the root causes though. Asking “why” 5 times does work. So I can believe that your asking “what else” will bring out hidden gems.

    • Hi Christian. Yes I have worked alongside “lean manufacturing” consultants looking after the human side of the implementation of new processes and there are definitely similarities with the “5 Why’s.” Thanks for making the connection.

  • Wow…. I want to apply these three…also in my personal life. The questions are powerful, insightfull and I do agree…. they can pull out some hidden gems of answers, especially creative ideas.

  • it’s an advertising for coffe 🙂
    seriouly I agree with you

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