7 Powerful Coaching Questions

A skill you and I both need

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Now, onto Issue 63.

7 Powerful Coaching Questions

I read a wonderful book recently. 

It’s called “The Coaching Habit” by Michael Bungay Stanier. 

In the book, Michael lays out a series of seven questions. They’re designed to be a simple framework to guide you (or someone else) through any challenge.

As I read it, it dawned on me: Everyone is a coach.

Sometimes by vocation – many college, professional and executives coaches read The Process – and sometimes by happenstance. Maybe you’re just trying to help a friend.

Either way, coaching is a skill everyone can benefit from.

So today, I want to give you Michael’s framework. We’ll keep it simple and concise.

Question 1: “What’s on your mind?”

This is the Kickstart Question.

Open-ended, yet focused. Casual enough to not be intimidating, yet pointed enough to initiate a meaningful conversation.

It implies, “Tell me what’s exciting you, giving you anxiety or consuming your attention at this moment.”

Skip “How are you?” or other default small talk and start here.

Question 2: “And what else?”

This is the Awe Question.

Don’t be fooled by the simplicity of this question.

It serves two important purposes:

  • Get past default responses and identify what’s truly critical

  • Prevent us from launching into “problem solving”

The first response to “what’s on your mind” is usually NOT the most important thing on someone’s mind.

This question keeps the conversation in discovery mode.

It’s a shovel that keeps digging up gold to be mined.

Question 3: “What’s the real challenge here for you?”

This is the Focus Question.

This question is powerful for two reasons.

  1. The words “real challenge” ensures you get to the right problem, not just any problem.

  2. The words “for you” brings the conversation from the abstract back to the individual.

This is critical.

You can only coach the person you’re talking to. Sometimes, that requires getting them to stop focusing on others and focus on themselves.

(And many times, this applies to ourselves! That pesky internal dialogue likes to look outward rather than inward).

We’re now positioned to go a level deeper.

Question 4: “What do you want?”

This is the Foundation Question.

It’s intended to reveal the desired outcome.

Asking “what do you want” creates psychological safety and autonomy.

It also serves as an important transition – from reflection to action.

If coaching is to create forward progress, then action must be the end goal.

Clarifying the true “want” is the first step to moving towards it.

Question 5: “How can I help?”

This is the Lazy Question.

It’s helpful for two reasons:

  1. It places ownership on the other person for what happens next

  2. It stops you from thinking you know how to best help

Just like “and what else?” prevents us from giving advice, “how can I help?” prevents us from going straight to taking action before we truly know what action to take.

Once you get the request, there are a few ways to respond:

  • Yes, I can do that

  • No, I can’t do that

  • I can’t do that, but I could do this

  • I’m not sure - let me think about that

You’re not automatically obligated to do the thing being asked.

The goal is just to get clear on the request so we can move to the next step.

Question 6: “If you’re saying yes to this, what are you saying no to?”

This is the Strategic Question.

It’s intended to create focus and prioritization.

Nobody has unlimited resources – money, time, attention, energy. We must make choices and tradeoffs.

This question requires a clear and committed “yes”, but also an accompanying “no” (or several of them).

There are two types of no’s - the no of omission and the no of commission.

The no of omission applies to options that are automatically eliminated by saying yes to something (eg. if you go to the game at 1pm, you can’t also go to the beach at 1pm).

The no of commission is what you NEED to say no to in order to commit to the yes.

This could be things like projects, relationships, habits or old beliefs that are taking up space.

Every “yes” needs the boundary of a “no.”

Question 7: “What was most useful for you?”

This is the Learning Question.

People don’t learn when they tell you something. They don’t even really learn when they do something.

The learning process begins with recall and reflection

So near the end of every coaching conversation, ask this question.

It creates a learning moment by reinforcing key insights and takeaways.

This is what solidifies the “aha” moments in a conversation.

For learning to “stick,” create space for people to reflect and recall key learnings at the end of the conversation.


Alright. So that’s the framework.

The 7 questions again:

  • What’s on your mind?

  • And what else?

  • What’s the real challenge here for you?

  • What do you want?

  • How can I help?

  • If you’re saying yes to this, what are you saying no to?

  • What was most useful for you?

You don’t have to use all of these in every conversation, or necessarily use them in this order.

But they’re proven to help, even if you’re coaching yourself.

Put them into practice this week and let me know what happens.

P.S. If you remember nothing else, remember this:

It’s human nature to give advice.

Practice NOT giving advice when people ask for it.

The best way to help someone develop is almost always by asking questions and helping them come up with their own answers.

(P.P.S. Read The Coaching Habit if you want to go deeper on this framework. It’s excellent.)

I’d love to hear from you

That’s it for this week.

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Thanks for reading.

See you next Sunday.