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Great Questions to support a Coaching Process

Many trainers are familiar with a simple coaching model such as the GROW model. This is a series of steps that help an individual to identify a goal and then work towards achieving it. The GROW acronym stands for Goal, Reality, Options and Will ( or, is some versions, Wrap-up) and the coach works through these in sequence, using questions to stimulate thinking and choice. There are a wide range of different coaching models but most will have within them these four elements:

  • An identification of what the learner wants to achieve, crafted into a specific goal or set of goals
  • An understanding of what the current situation is, what has gone on in the past and how the learner is feeling at this point in time
  • An exploration of a range of possible ways forward: ideas, options and choices to broaden the learner’s perspective and encourage movement from the current reality
  • An evaluation of the available options and the first steps in a development plan based upon the learner’s own preferences and choices about how to progress

A good coach uses a variety of questions to focus on different aspects of the learner’s experience. However, very often the questions are framed according to the coach’s own preferences and thinking patterns. For example, a coach who has very well developed, logical, analytical thinking and who tends to develop ideas in a structured, sequential way, is likely to frame questions that reflect this. If the person being coached thinks in the same way this can a) be very helpful and build trust and easy dialogue or b) reinforce existing patterns of thinking, maintain the mindset of the learner and make it harder to break open new ideas and possibilities. If the person being coached thinks in a very different way, the questions may prove too challenging at first, making it harder to exploit the benefits of the diversity of thinking that will accrue later.

Ned Herrmann’s work on ‘Whole Brain Thinking’  (see http://hbdi.com) offers some insights into the different aspects of thinking that we all use, every day of our lives. These can be summarized as:

  1. Logical, analytical, critical and evaluative thinking that we use when making rational decisions and solving technical problems
  2. Creative, big picture, holistic, imaginative thinking we use when exploring new ideas and future possibilities
  3. Emotional, values-based, empathetic thinking that we use when building and exploring relationships, beliefs and the more spiritual and ethical aspects of our lives
  4. Practical, pragmatic, operational and administrative thinking that we use to keep control of or lives, manage time and resources and create rules and structures.

In the question set below, I have used one example question from each of these ‘types of thinking’ to illustrate how a coach may use different language and a different question type at each stage in the coaching process. By offering the same basic question, framed in different ways, the coach can improve the chances of the question resonating with the learner and eliciting a better understood response. The questions are listed in the same order (1-4) as the thinking type descriptions above.

 Step 1: Establishing a goal

  1. Why do you want to work on this goal right now and what are the benefits of doing so?
  2. What do you want to achieve in the future and how is this goal connected to other things that are also important to you? What would success look like?
  3. How do you want to feel and what do you want to be saying at the end of this process?
  4. Can you describe, specifically, what it is that you want to achieve and by when and at what cost?

Step 2: Exploring current reality

  1. What is your understanding of the problem, issue or opportunity that you are currently facing?
  2. What range of options have you already thought about, or experimented with, in trying to solve this problem for yourself?
  3. How are you feeling about this situation now, as we talk about it? What do you feel most strongly about?
  4. What are the genuine barriers or constraints to making progress? What boundaries must you work within?

Step 3: Creating options and generating ideas

  1. What criteria will you use to choose the solution that you will implement?
  2. If you had absolutely free choice in this, and no limitations, what would you do?
  3. Is there anyone else who could be involved with you or whose opinion you would value? What would they ask you to think about if they were here right now?
  4. Can you write down 3 different ideas about how this might be solved, to ensure you don't forget them?

Step 4: Deciding what to do and planning the first steps

  1. Do you really understand the rationale for choosing this particular course of action? Does it make sense to you?
  2. What will you do to celebrate when you reach this milestone? How you will reward yourself?
  3. Are you comfortable with the choice you have made? Does it feel right and does if ‘feel like you’?
  4. What, exactly, are you going to do first? Where and when are you going to do it?

These are only suggested questions. Study the type of thinking they represent and have fun adding your own ideas to the list!  Best wishes,
Ann Alder


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