Debunking the Magic Question: Striving for Curious Questions
Many coaches have searched for the “magic” question that will give them a superpower to dramatically help their clients find the best solution to their problems. Often, the coach is keen to keep a list of memorized coaching questions for use in various scenarios with different clients on a variety of topics. This approach to coaching unfortunately leads to ineffective results because the coach is too focused on questions rather than on the client, context and the moment of realization.
For instance, during one of my coaching sessions, I asked a client: “What would you do if you had enough money to live your life without needing to work?” This question was well–received and made a huge impact on my client because it helped him to expose his real issue. I was delighted, and I thought my question had magic in it. Then, I posed the same question to another client and received a completely different response. The difference caused me to pause and reflect between a “curious” question and a so-called “magic” question.
My conclusion is that no question has predetermined magic in it unless the coach takes into account the extra contributing factors, including the client, topic, context and flow. In particular:
- When is the question asked in the coaching session?
- How is the question asked and for what purpose?
- How is the question received by the client at that moment, and how it is interpreted?
As coaches, we cannot always rely on a list of memorized questions. We must stay curious enough to generate more thought-provoking questions as a response to what is being shared here and now. Coaching is a generative conversation rather than a series of questions and answers. To be present while working with our clients, curiosity is a prerequisite for coaching questions to be interactive and powerful.
“Curious” is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as “wanting to know or learn about something.” Being curious when asking our questions means we are neither judgmental nor expecting a certain answer. On the contrary, we are becoming more welcoming and open to unknown space and have the questioning ability that allows us to navigate the client’s thinking in the best possible way. Questions are not fixed or linear processes. They are better understood as dynamic processes which require deep engagement with the client with respect to factors such as issue, context, way of thinking, feelings, assumptions, beliefs, values and identity.
Curious questions can be seen as a way of aiding the highest levels of motivation, partnering with the client to discover what is going on in their life instead of playing the role of the expert. Throughout the past 13 years in the coaching field, I have realized that questions will be more powerful when we as coaches move from focusing on the topic to being present with our client – from memorizing a list to constructing our questions. From searching for the “right” answer to partnering with the client in an effort to explore possibilities. From waiting for our turn to raise the next question, to embracing the pause.