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Performance Coaching = Make Your Clients Think


Performance coaching is all about helping the client find solutions and to help them move beyond their mental horizons. But can we unravel our internal capacities so we can get past life and career roadblocks? By doing precisely what we just did; asking more and better questions.

Questions are the backbone of coaching. Unlike answers, questions help us push past cognitive biases and into the unchartered territories of our minds and our potential.

The progress of the world has mostly depended on quality questions rather than finding answers. All remarkable achievements spring from the right kind of questions rather than finding the answers. Remaining in a questioning mode doesn’t quite come naturally for many of us. We are still primed from an early age to (madly) pursue answers.

However, the ability or even the desire to question is considered one of the chief aims of education. In fact, many people often imagine that the main reason for engaging a performance coach is to find all the answers to their long-standing or perennial problems. But in reality, a performance coach’s job is to steer you towards your own solutions. He or she will do this by helping you look at your situation from a different lens and to hold you accountable for taking the right actions.

Performance coaches must always plan their sessions by not just getting themselves in the right mindset, but also planning the right questions. While many of the questions might seem fairly standard, the right questions will enrich the sessions and allow the coachee to step back and examine themselves.

Great questions can make the difference between a powerful, dynamic and productive session and a one-way interrogation or lecture.


Not All Questions Are Created Equal

What kind of questions should a performance coach ask or how can they know a particular question is good or bad? The magic in performance coaching is in how you time and frame the questions. The same questions in the hand of a novice might not produce the same results. Sounds confusing? Here are a few guiding principles to keep in mind:

  • Open questions are more productive than closed ones
  • Descriptive questions (What’s working? What’s not?) pack a lot more punch than speculating ones (What if? What might be? Why not?).
  • Questions can be quite annoying if they don’t spring from a deeply held conviction of what the coachee want’s to accomplish.
  • Aggressive questions that put people on the spot, or cast unwarranted doubts on their ideas should be avoided at all costs.
  • Avoid questions that reinforce the emotional charge your client is already feeling. Instead, ask questions that open up possibilities and other avenues that they may not have considered.

As a performance coach, you must have a genuine interest and curiosity towards your coachee’s answers. They can detect real interest and also whether you are just trying to do what you are supposed to do. Therefore, you are unlikely to get to that ‘nerve center’ of your client’s situation if you are just going through the motions of coaching.

Why questions can seem confrontational and even judgmental. ‘Why would you …” kind of questioning can make your client feel like they are on the spot, or being judged. This, of course, is not useful when it comes to trying to open them up and to come up with creative solutions.

Remember, the gates of meaningful change and action can only be opened from the inside. Your questions should try to create a bridge between what your client is sharing and what else you want to know.

Here are three powerful questions that often lead to important breakthroughs (and other questions), and that should be part of your coaching toolkit:


1. What Do You Want or What Does Success Look Like To You?

Getting your clients to envision their goals, paint a clear picture and talk about what they are most passionate about can produce a lot of positive energy. It also sets the stage for the relationship and the ultimate goal of engagement. When the coachee begins to articulate what they want to explore or to fix, it triggers action and ideas on what they should do, which is absolutely critical in goal-setting.


Download The How To Make Your Clients Think One-Sheeter Below!


2. What’s Standing in Your Path?

Putting the obstacles into perspective, whether they are personal, professional, or relational, is an excellent way to kickstart brainstorming for ideas and strategies. Life and careers are fraught with all kinds of roadblocks and merely naming them or recognizing them can help to lighten the burden mentally.

In fact, many clients even discover that these roadblocks are not really obstacles in the first place. By naming them and standing up to them, most of them fall off of their own weight without as much as a piece of the action. But the greatest insight from this kind of question is the fact that the client will begin to think of workarounds rather than surrendering to the roadblocks.


3. Can You Tell Me More?

The value of this kind of question is that it opens up a psychological safehouse for your client to express what’s on their mind. It indicates a genuine interest in your client’s story and it challenges them to dig deeper and cut to the heart of the matter.

You’ll move forward faster the sooner you get to the core of the problem. This question often leads to another important question, and that is, what kind of support the client would want from the performance coach. It helps to put the coach-coachee relationship into context and also to manage the client’s expectations.

When using questions to prompt your coachee to consider new ideas or potential solutions, it is incredibly important to indicate that it might not have occurred to you either. What you don’t want to do as a performance coach is to seem to be providing the ideas or the solution.

Being at the forefront of ideas and strategies might create complacency, and the coachee might end up depending on you for the ideas and creative solutions. Enabling your client to come up with the solution on their own means that they are likely to commit and follow through the ultimate strategies and courses of action.

When brainstorming or coming up with ideas, also remember not to allow your ego to pop up. There will always be clients who are smarter than you so you must resist the temptation to affirm or reinforce an excellent or novel idea.

There’s a deadly myth that performance coaching can only be conducted through a fixed set of questions. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The skill in performance coaching is to know when and how to use different questions to get the most out of the sessions. However, for more effective results, you must combine this skill with the skill of effective listening. Download the one-sheeter below to add this skill to your toolbox!

To Your Success,

Jairek Robbins & Team PCU