Great Coaching Questions

By: Chris Budd
Chairman
Ovation Finance & The Eternal Business Consultancy

During the PFS Power Coaching Webinars that Jan Bowen-Nielsen and Chris Budd conducted on 28 January 2020, several people asked, “Can you suggest some great questions?” Here are a few thoughts from Chris.

When to use coaching questions

Before we get into some detail, let us remind ourselves the objective of coaching.

The coaching approach is intended to be used when we are helping a client to think. This could be in an early exploratory session, to encourage the client to imagine a future to provide context for the financial planning.

It might be helping someone understand their self-limiting beliefs, or their relationship to money.

It could be during a cash flow presentation, encouraging the client to consider different scenarios for modelling.

We can therefore see that coaching is used when the focus is entirely on the client. This is not the time to be offering solutions, but to be neutral, to help the client to think about themselves.

What makes a question great?

Our questions in such a situation should have certain characteristics:

They should carry little or no judgement

They should not be leading

They should generally be open questions.

Keep in mind what you are trying to achieve, to help the client to think. This is not about you providing answers or solutions. These would be based upon your own values. At this point in the planning process you are trying to get the clients to uncover and discover their own values, ambitions and dreams. Some of these may be well buried, and therefore gentle probing is the order of the day.

What makes a coaching question great, therefore, is when it is not really great at all!

Keep it simple

One misconception about coaching is that there are really great questions to be uncovered.

In practice, the reverse is the case. If you ask a complicated question, the reaction of the client is often to wonder “What is it they are trying to get me to say”.

Far better to use a short, simple question that allows the client to focus on their own thoughts.

In simple terms, this is how you might approach your question in two short steps.

Step 1: What is the information that you are seeking or the issue you want to understand?

Step 2: Now ask the most simple question you can in order to get that information or understanding

Examples

Here are some examples of what I would consider to be ‘great’ questions:

  • At the start of a meeting: “How will we know when this meeting has finished?” This is great for setting a clear objective for a meeting.
  • In order for this to happen, what would need to happen beforehand? (E.g. “In order for you to retire at 55, what would need to happen?”).
  • When this happens, then what might happen? (E.g. “When you retire at 55, how will you spend your time?”)
  • Understanding the client’s thinking and motivation behind a stated goal: “When you have paid off your mortgage, what will that give you?”

One last thought

Remember, the coaching approach means all of the attention being on the client. They should be doing the lion’s share of the talking.

Sometimes, therefore, not asking a question is the best approach. When somebody answers a challenging question quickly, they are generally giving the answer they think you want to hear. If you say nothing and just wait, they will often fill the silence with a more meaningful answer.

Chris Budd is a diploma qualified business coach. As well as being chairman of the Initiative for Financial Wellbeing, he advises business owners on their exit, and the Employee Ownership Trust in particular.

If you’d like to develop your coaching skills visit
PFS Power’s Event page to join Quiver Management’s Coaching Webinars or 1-day Coaching Skills Workshops running across the UK.


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