Understanding and learning how to use powerful coaching questions to facilitate breakthroughs is one of the most important skills of coaching. Great coaches have tested questions across multiple subjects and niches and have developed their own processes and methodologies to help their clients break through their limiting beliefs.
Finding the right question, for the right client, for the right occasion, is an art. And that art is what makes coaching different. Coaches don’t teach, they listen, ask questions, discover limiting patterns, and develop action steps and accountability to help their clients breakthrough.
Need help building your coaching questions toolkit? Inside this blog you’ll learn:
✔️ Why you need to ask better coaching questions.
✔️ The 3 most important types of coaching questions to help clients act.
✔️ 12 powerful coaching questions to ask your clients to facilitate breakthroughs.
Why do coaches need to ask questions?
A coach’s job is to facilitate breakthroughs and the only way to do that is to understand your client and to help them understand themselves. No one knows more about the client than the client themselves. Inside their heads are all their memories, heartaches, successes, and beliefs. The only way to access that information, so you can guide your client to the next steps, is by asking them questions.
Questions hold all the power and allow us to think and act on our ideas. As a coach, asking versus telling allows you to leave your own beliefs and experiences behind so that you can focus on the client.
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12 Powerful Coaching Questions To Help Your Clients Breakthrough
There are so many types of coaching questions, for different niches, and for different types of clients. For this article, I’m sharing 12 questions from my favorite coaching questions book* that I believe are universal and can be used by every coach. These questions allow your clients to set goals, solve problems, and act.
Goal-Setting Coaching Questions
People hire coaches to make a change. We are changemakers. The most powerful questions you can ask help you and your clients get clarity about what they actually want. Here are 3 goal-setting coaching questions any coach can use:
#1 “What do you want to accomplish through this coaching relationship?”
This question is perfect for helping you get clarity around what your coaching clients want and it also allows you to develop a coaching strategy to help them succeed. But it’s not just about you! For the client, this simple question allows them to explore what’s possible when working with a coach while empowering them to focus on the important goals in their life.
#2 “What will be different when you’ve reached this goal?”
This is my FAVORITE coaching question because it allows your clients visualize and attract the amazing life that could be awaiting them if they commit to doing the work with you. Even more powerful, this question could make a client change their goals because they realize that it’s not the goal they really want to focus on during coaching.
#3 “In a month or three months or a year—whatever time frame you want to work in—what change do you want to have made?”
This question encourages the client to choose a time when they expect the goal to be done. It’s the perfect thing to ask clients who may have unrealistic goals and expectations. It allows them to really explore what is possible and by when.
Problem-Solving Coaching Questions
Once your client has figured out what they want to accomplish, now it’s time to help them find solutions. Unless you are a coach and a consultant, it’s not your job necessarily to solve your client’s problems. It’s your job to help them explore their environment and find solutions to reach their goals. Here are a few questions to help them explore their options:
#1 “What could you do here to move yourself toward your goal?”
Many times a coaching client may be stuck in a box that they put themselves in. This question challenges them to think deeper about the gifts, talents, and tools they already have to help them move forward. It’s the perfect question for clients who tend to tend to blame other people for their problems, which is why the word “YOU” is the most important part of this question.
#2 “What obstacles might keep you from reaching your goal? How could you remove them?”
I love this question because it forces clients to explore every potential obstacle that could stop their success. I call this the “worst-case” scenario question. What’s the worst that could happen and how could you fix it? This is a powerful coaching question for clients who are dealing with fear and anxiety. It forces them to face their worst fears and troubleshoot in advance.
#3 “What have you done in similar situations in the past?”
This question is a biggie and it’s a two-headed monster. It can force your client to see their repeating patterns and finally put a stop to them OR it can help them realize that they have the skills to deal with this and it’s not that big and scary. This is a great question for clients who are struggling with imposter syndrome. Reliving your past is a powerful way to avoid repeating patterns.
Action-Based Coaching Questions
Once goals and options have been determined it’s time to act! This is the best part of coaching and what keeps your clients coming back session after session. Clients can only learn how to follow through on their goals if they have you to help them see what may be holding them back. Here are 3 action-based coaching questions any coach can ask:
#1 “Let’s turn that into an action step: what exactly will you do?”
The unique thing about coaching is that you can’t do it for your clients, and those practicing true coaching, won’t’ even tell their clients what to do. You have to push them to move using their own resources. This question pushes clients to ACT. Meaning, this will stop those clients who get on calls and dreaming big but never do. This is an amazing question to ask clients who always have an excuse as to why they couldn’t move forward.
#2 “You mentioned that you could do _______. What will you commit to doing?”
Do you have a client who is all talk and no action? This is the question for them! It challenges them to practice what they preach and commit to doing the work they said they could do. When you ask this question, take notes, document their response, and use it for upcoming accountability sessions.
#3 “Is that a realistic timetable? Are there any other obstacles we need to address before you move forward with this step?”
This question is made for the client who has unrealistic expectations. Especially perfectionists and A-Type individuals. It brings them back down to reality and encourages them to rethink their goals and timelines. Use this to help them break the patterns of repeated failures. This will help your client finally accomplish those lifelong goals.
Once we’ve gotten clarity on what our clients want and need, as well as their limits, it becomes easier to facilitate breakthroughs. A breakthrough is simply helping your client become mentally unstuck so they can achieve the goals they committed to. Simply put, you help them breakthrough obstacles! Here are 3 obstacle-based questions any coach can ask:
#1 “What is stopping you from reaching that objective?”
When a client shows up to 2 to 3 sessions and they haven’t moved forward on the goals and objectives they committed to, it’s time to get straight to the point. What’s stopping them? But be prepared! Although this question is short and sweet it can lead to some serious emotional breakthroughs. Many times what’s stopping a client is personal. It could be their own limiting beliefs, childhood issues, or more.
#2 “What do you need that you don’t have to reach this goal?”
Imposter syndrome is an ugly thing and this question gets straight to the point. It encourages clients to face their shortcomings (real or imaginary) and make a decision on next steps. Sometimes a coaching client may feel they don’t have enough knowledge or experience. Or maybe they are insecure about their personal appearance. Whatever it is, this question gets to the bottom of it. Once you get to the root of the issue, it’s your job to encourage them to fix what they can and accept what they can’t change.
#3 “What resources or people could use to overcome this obstacle?”
Last but not least, the ideal question for coaching clients who try to do everything by themselves, who believe they don’t need help, and who are struggling because of it. Asking them this question allows them to remember that they have resources, people, and tools to help them reach their goals. Our job as coaches is to help our clients pursue positive change while using their current environment to facilitate progress.
4 tips to help you ask powerful coaching questions
Asking questions seems easy right? Or is it??? Ask any new coach and they’ll say it’s the hardest part of learning how to coach. Asking questions is an art and it takes practice. If you’ve been struggling, here are some tips to help you master your question asking abilities:
1 – Keep your questions open-ended. Close-ended questions are questions that can be answered with “yes” or “no”. This is won’t help you understand the coachee, nor will it help the coachee reach their breakthrough. When asking a question, make sure the client has to think and provide an answer.
2 – Don’t be afraid to say “tell me more.” Coaching is a balance between active listening AND coming up with the next question to help your client. “Tell me more” is a beginning coaching strategy to help you get more information from the coachee, and also gives you time to think through what questions you’ll ask next.
3 – Accept silence. Following up on the above, don’t fill space just because. Be intentional with the questions you ask, and if you need to… pause. Silence is so powerful! It allows you to think and is a form of meditation especially when working through heavy topics or right before/after a breakthrough.
4 – Balance interruptions. Sometimes you need to interrupt a client to keep them on track, and sometimes you need to listen. Understanding when and how to interrupt is almost as important as asking the questions themselves. If your client is repeating negative patterns and telling limiting stories instead of answering your questions, feel free to interrupt. If your client is having a breakthrough and needs to talk through thoughts, allow them to speak.
I hope this was helpful! This is just the beginning of my powerful coaching questions series. I’ll be sharing more advanced questions to ask in future blog posts.
If you love questions as much as I do, you might also like these blogs written by Cass:
- 10 Socratic Questions to Explore Your Thoughts + Beliefs
- 10 Questions To Ask Yourself: Prepare For Self-Improvement
- My favorite book is *Coaching Questions: A Coach’s Guide to Powerful Asking Skills 1st Edition by Tony Stoltzfus. I highly recommend this coaching reference to help you level up your coaching skills.