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Inquiry and Advocacy – The Coaching Room

This article was originally written by Michael Hall – gently edited by The Coaching Room


“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity.” – Albert Einstein


When you open your mouth and begin to talk, you either advocate a view, belief, understanding, knowledge, etc. or you inquire to gather information. Of these two, most people engage in far more advocacy than inquiry. In fact, some people hardly ever use inquiry.  They talk and talk, they give advice, they lecture, they preach, they declare what is or should be, they make propositional statements, etc. They almost never question. Test this in your own experience— run an experiment this week by noticing the relationship between inquiry and advocacy among the people around you.


Now as a coach, and especially as a Meta-Coach, you know that you coach best by asking questions rather than making statements. That’s one reason we emphasize the skill of questioning and have put “telling,” “judging,” “storytelling,” and “giving advice” at level 0 on the benchmarks.

When you inquire, you activate the meaning-making processes in both yourself and in your client. The very fact of asking engages your client’s thinking so that your client start to discover for himself. You are also mobilizing the learning process because, as you ask questions and your client answer the questions, they are thinking for themselves. We call this learning. The simplicist form of learning is the kind of learning that we share with the animals. In Stimulus—Response learning, when a stimulus comes to evoke a new and regular response, we say that the animal has learned a way of responding. We still rely on this kind learning in school when we give out standardized question which call for a standardize answer. No real thinking is required, just the right response.


The NLP Communication Model says that by asking questions, you “directionalize” the other person’s brain. Your questions enable your client to establish a “focus” and perspective unique to your question.

As you think about that position, how much more resourceful would you like to be as you interact with your boss?


Coming from the NLP model, Anthony Robbins says, “… the difference between people is the difference in the questions they ask consistently.” That’s because it is the quality of one’s questions that determine the quality of one’s life. This calls upon us as coaches to take our questioning to a higher level. George Bernard Shaw did this in the following famous quotation:

“Some men see things as they are and say, ‘Why?’

I dream of things that never were and say, ‘Why not?’”


Now if we think by questioning, then one way to access the deepest thinking of your client is to ask about her questions. We encourage this in Meta-Coaching by urging that you listen for and ask about the questions that your client is asking himself.


Here are some additional questions that you can ask as you do information gathering with your clients:

  • What questions do you have about this subject? (The client’s outcome)
  • What questions are you asking yourself as you think about this goal?
  • What questions are in the back of your mind as we talk but you haven’t mentioned?
  • What questions would be good for you to be asking yourself?
  • What limiting questions are you asking yourself which is sabotaging your best?
  • What questions do you have about this that you have never asked yourself?


Then, with whatever your client says, you can always ask the refining questions. Remember the refining questions— two are open-ended and two are positive closed-ended questions:

  • Exploration questions: How do you think about X? I hear that you discounted X as being significant. If you did feel proud about that, how would that change things for you?
  • Clarification questions: How are you using the term X specifically? You say you want to be joyful and happy about X, how are you using these terms ‘joyful’ and ‘happy’
  • Checking questions: I’m not sure if I understand, do you mean that you are wanting to commit yourself in this relationship?
  • Testing questions: So X is what you want? Are you sure?


Wendell Johnson says that “there are questions that tend to make us learn rapidly and well” (People in Quandaries, p. 282). Do you know such questions? Johnson wrote:

“If ever there may be a truly significant reform of education, no small part of it will lie in teaching children not how to give old answers, but how to formulate new questions. It is indeed likely that nothing else is more basic in the educative process than the relative emphasis given to the techniques of inquiry.”

“The fact of the matter is that our beliefs automatically become questions the moment we realize that they are beliefs instead of facts.” If we say, ‘Criminal behaviour is hereditary’ we assume it is a first-order fact. Once you realize it is a belief, it becomes a question, ‘Is criminal behaviour hereditary?’”


Here is a way to check out your beliefs and quality control them. Turn your beliefs into questions. Your inquiry then will lead to new conclusions and explorations. Then also you will not only ask questions, you will be asking meaningful, answerable questions.


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