Back in 2007 I took the time to be trained as a life coach. In case you don’t know what that is, I like to describe as someone who is a guidance counselor for grown-ups. It’s a person who is not a therapist or a mentor or a boss, but someone who is able to listen to you, to guide you down the path of making a life change. It is someone who knows how to ask questions that prompt thought on the part of the one being coached, that leads to action that creates change.
Training to be a coach consisted of a variety of approaches; weekends-long class work, practice sessions with peer coaches for hours and hours, readings, and master coach sessions. The master coach who led the training that I participated in was Stephanie. Over the course of ten months, for three weekends, we spent 3 days straight learning how to pose questions to clients that would elicit action; how to listen between the lines; how to hold the client’s agenda sacred–without insinuating our own judgment or opinion into the conversation.
The curriculum, filling a 3-inch, 3-ring binder, included several pages listing “empowering questions“; questions that are meant to elicit a response following some considerable thought on the part of the client. Many, if not all, of the questions begin with the words “what”, “how” or “how come”–never does an empowering question begin with the word “why”. Stephanie questioned brilliantly, honing in on the exact kernel of information that would turn the tide to create an a-ha moment for a client. I was constantly blown away by her skill as I observed her work the group of students throughout the training sessions.
One of phrases she used in crafting her questions was, “I’m curious about…” She told us that when you come from a play of curiosity rather than straight questioning it will support a more honest exchange between coach and client. While I have not taken on too many clients over the last six years, I have continued to use both the skill and the pages of questions from my binder. I rarely use the question “why” rather I focus on the what and the how. Whenever a supervisor or manager in my agency comes looking for support on how to deal with a difficult employee I crack open the binder, find the pages of empowering questions and make a copy the them.
The skill, or art if you so choose, to ask questions is one I continue to refine. I work hard at focusing on the questions, whether I’m one-on-one with a staff person or I’m working in a group. I listen to myself to make sure what I truly hear is Stephanie reminding me to listen carefully and to ask questions. If I never work with another client again, the time and money invested in the training and the chance to have Stephanie as a master coach was well worth it!