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It’s the Question, Stupid! – The Coaching Room

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


Years ago the political frame that sealed the election for George H. Bush was, “It’s the Economy, Stupid!” I don’t know who came up with it, but with just those few words, he was able to set a frame and keep his campaign focused on the economy. Perhaps we could do a similar thing with this one for the focus of coaching, “It’s the Question, Stupid!”

[Now there’s no need to take offence at the little meta-comment at the end—“stupid.” That was added, I think, not so much an insult as a way to grab attention and highlight the blinding obviousness of the statement.]

In Meta-Coach training you heard us say over and over, “You coach best by asking questions.” “If you don’t know that the heart of coaching is asking questions, you have missed the heart of coaching.” And on Day 2 of ACMC training, I always enjoy the first twenty minutes because we always read from the manual a half dozen very powerful quotations from coaching books on the power of questions. We then present whole sets of questions— primary questions and meta- questions; well-formed outcome questions, matrix questions, Meta-Model precision questions, and so on.


Asking questions is your primary tool as a coach. That’s because in coaching your job is not to give answers, it is to ask questions. And why? Here’s the magic—it is to get your client to think, to really and truly think, to think deeply and broadly. In other words, your job as a coach is to enable people to think! Recently I have been writing about this on Neurons; I started with the one that I titled, “Thinking is in Short Supply.” The point is that there is a natural human tendency to not-think. And there are many, many factors that encourage not-thinking.

What benefits will your clients experience when they starts thinking? Ah, here is the real value of coaching. By really thinking, your client will start to take control of his mind and emotions, his power to respond to the world from his beliefs and values, and to determine his future. This is how you truly empower a coaching client. By asking questions you hand over the power (the ability) to construct a mental map that will effectively serve her and her desired goals. This facilitates her to become self- leading and self-managing.

Now given all of that— let me ask the questions that we ask in ACMC on Day 2.

Do you have some great questions ready to go?

Do you have some juicy questions that will tease and play with your client’s minds?

How skilled are you at asking questions that can probe deeply into your client’s meaning matrix and flush out limiting thinking patterns and dysfunctional assumptions?

How skilful are you in asking both primary and meta-questions?

In the last post, I recommended a way to deal with limiting assumptions. Once you detect the assumption that’s limiting a client, you reverse it, then tying it to the person’s outcome, you ask a question that invites the person to step out of the old thinking that holds the limitation in place. Now true enough, that’s an advanced coaching skill. Yet it is the fundamental skill of questioning. If the real issue is that of asking questions, how rigorous are your questions? How tough? How challenging? How inspiring?

It does require courage. So, how about you? Do you have the courage to be bold enough to ask and to get to the heart of the issue? Or, are you still hesitant and fearful of challenging your clients? Do you still let them talk and talk and talk without interrupting and enabling their thinking capabilities? This is actually one of the big differences that I have noticed between those who are novices at coaching and those who have become truly skilled and fully competent. They have learned the art of asking questions that enable clients to think and experience things that they have never thought or experienced before.


To do this, set some frames at the beginning of your coaching conversation so that your client is prepared to understand that what she is going to experience is real coaching. This will enable her to understand what you are doing and why.

In the coaching conversation that we’re going to have today, my job will be to frequently interrupt you and ask you strange questions. This is to make the conversation a dialogue and one that gets to the heart of things— even the background beliefs and assumptions that you may not even be aware of. Are you ready for this depth of a conversation?

When I interrupt you with some questions that may seem weird, I want you to know that this is to flush out any blind spots that may be limiting you so that you can have true choice about whether you want to keep those beliefs, understandings, or decisions. This is designed to enable you to take more control over your own self. Ready to go?

Are you brave enough to do this? Do you have sufficient courage? Do you fear that your client will get upset or quit the coaching? If so, this is one of the great values of having a buddy-coach. Present your fear or apprehension and let your buddy-coach work with you to get to the hidden frames in the back of your mind.

To be a coach is to courageously and boldly ask the questions that nobody else will ask. Do this with respect, rapport, compassion, and respect— but do it! Ask the audacious questions and take your client to the heart of the matter. Here’s to you becoming a great questioner as a Meta-Coach!


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