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“The Starting Point is a Question” – Albert Manguel

The late Peter Falk starred in “Columbo,” a long-running detective series in the ‘80s. Falk, as Columbo, gained notoriety for his twist on solving crimes. Robed in a rumpled old over- coat and with a cigar stub clinched between his lips, he often asked what appeared at first to be “stupid” questions. His intent, however, was to focus on an angle that was missing in the investigation or to point out an aspect of the crime that had been overlooked. And his tactics worked, most of the time.

In much the same way, asking powerful questions is the hallmark for coaching.21 It’s key to exploration and discovery. A well-crafted and appropriate query posed at the right time has the uncanny ability to focus attention on vague issues and prompt the person you are coaching to make choices and take actions. Every coach must master this skill if he hopes to draw out God-given potential from his clients.

In order to be most effective, coaches must learn to ask what we call open-ended questions – those queries that require more than a simple yes or no answer. For the skilled coach, closed questions are taboo for they tend to narrow the conversation, while open-ended questions broaden it.

A skilled coach must learn to ask four types of questions (each one open-ended), depending on the conversation and the need of the moment. Here is a brief overview of each.

1. Direct Questions

Direct questions get immediately to the core of the matter. They are aimed at the heart to pierce defenses and jar the person to conclusions. They can be breathtaking, perhaps even catching the client off guard.

Asking direct questions naturally depends on your level of relational capital. The coach must determine if the person being coached is ready for such a question; otherwise, the relationship might be breached. Direct questions fit into the category described by the Proverb: “…Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” They are often considered to be the secret weapon of coaching.

2. Open Questions

An open question is one that unbolts the door for the person you are coaching to visit an area of thinking heretofore unconsidered. Do not confuse open questions with open-ended questions. Each of the four types listed here is open-ended.

An open question might begin as follows: “What would it look like if …?” You just swung open the door for the client to go somewhere new in his thinking. Observe his response and follow your curiosity from there.

3. Ownership Questions

Ownership questions force the person being coached to assume responsibility; to take action in his situation, whether or not it is his fault. In coaching sessions, people often try to blame other people, situations, and scenarios for their own unwise choices. You will hear, “I wasn’t reared properly; I have little education; or, my boss is the problem.” Some of these excuses may be based on fact, but the person being coached can’t change the third party.

Ownership questions are powerful with regard to evoking personal responsibility for future actions.

4. Revealing Questions

This type of inquiry helps the client shed new light on a situation or think in a different vein. A revealing question might look something like this: “What would you be doing right now, if you had plenty of money, time, education, etc.?

Revealing questions help get the person “unstuck” by prompting him to look beyond his present status. They release “creative juices” in the human brain, causing it to perform as it was created to perform – to think!

Questions serve numerous purposes in coaching. They can open up and expand an area, or they can help probe and intensify a person’s focus. Jesus used questions in nearly all of His conversations. In essence, each of His conversations was a coaching session.

Have you learned to use powerful questions? Have you mastered the fab-four mentioned above?

-Excerpt from John’s new book, “Coaching the Next Generation”


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