Successful coaching requires a number of skills; listening, empathy and observation, but arguably one of the most important skills any mentor can have is asking the right question at the right time.

A well worded question at a well chosen moment will yield a wealth of information about an enterprise, the operator and the hidden problem they don’t even know they need to fix. So here’s a quick guide to some of the most powerful questions you can ask as a coach…

Information gathering

The initial phase of coaching a client is all about gathering information. It involves finding out who a business operator is, how they work and what they aim to achieve. Naturally this process involves a series of small queries like how long they have been in business etc. But there are also seemingly innocuous questions that can reveal a whole lot more, such as:

    • Tell me about your business and what’s going on?
    • What have you done, tried or considered?
    • What are your ideal outcomes?
    • Who are you looking to benefit?


Goal setting

Goal setting is all about getting to the nitty gritty of what a client hopes to achieve personally and professionally, but many people find it hard to separate daily duties with where they would ultimately like to be. The following questions help reveal what makes a business operator tick and what they aim to do:

  • What’s your definition of happiness?
  • How could you be happy if you chose to be?
  • What are you grateful for?
  • What would you do with an extra hour each day?
  • Where would you like to be in 3/5/10 years time?

Mindset questions

As any coach knows, the most valuable element of business coaching is shifting a mindset – making the seemingly impossible plausible and removing barriers to success. These questions are about self revelation, to help the client draw the required conclusions that impel them to act and move forward.

  • What is preventing you from reaching your goals?
  • How much of what you have told me is based on fact, and how much on assumption?
  • What’s the benefit of this problem?
  • What’s the worst that could happen, and could you deal with that?
  • If you removed fear, what would you do?
  • What advice would you offer me if I was in your situation?

Action questions

You know the problem, you know the desired outcome and the priorities of the operator, now it’s about action and these questions are the basis of the strategies to move forward.

  • What would have to change to make that happen?
  • Have you solved problems like this before?
  • What do you feel is stopping you from taking action?
  • What are three things you could change right now to make an immediate difference to your business?

Results questions

Then there are questions designed to keep your clients on track throughout the coaching experience. These are as valuable to you as they are to them, allowing you to see the change in mindset and growth, re-evaluate if necessary and change tack if required. They include:

  • What have you changed in the past week that worked and why?
  • What problems have you solved?
  • What did you learn?
  • What would you do differently?
  • Who did it benefit?

General questions

Every coach should have a toolkit of general questions that allow them to discover further information and really comprehend a situation. Questions along these lines are excellent for getting the client to reveal more, help you understand and empathise:

  • Can you share the specifics of what’s going on?
  • What am I not asking that I should be?
  • Could you describe further?
  • Tell me more about that?

The final word

Asking the right questions is not about following a script or staging your own personal inquisition, it’s about natural conversation that reveals the issues you need to work on with a business owner to resolve. By considering the above, you not only discover the best course of action to take, but encourage self discovery in your client. And the truth is, by nature, people pay a lot more attention to what they say, than what they are told.