Questions help you look at your life. There are all kinds of ways to form a question: What, where, when, how, why? Those are critical words in our language and we need to use them more to our benefit. Most of us are born with curious minds. We depend on our skill at asking questions to learn about the world. It’s natural for children to ask questions. Most parents have heard the story of the little boy who asked a never-ending list of questions about why, how, and what? His dad finally told him to stop because he, when he was a child, “didn’t bother his own parents like that.” So his son replied, dangerously correct, “But dad, if you had asked more questions then, maybe you would be able to answer my questions now.” There is a very important—if not dangerous to articulate— bit of truth here.
A good coach learns and teaches by asking questions. Questions come from curiosity and curiosity is a quality of a good coach. Intelligent, curious coaches ask questions and don’t settle for quick answers. By sharing in your search for truth, coaches can be relentless question askers.
Skillfully used questions are an essential piece of our coaching tool kit, yet a lot of coaches never quite learn how to ask good questions. A good question, correctly asked, leads to useful understanding, and usually another question. A poorly asked question leads nowhere…to a simple “yes” or a “no” and little is learned. Think about it; how many times have you listened to a reporter asking questions that lead nowhere? Questions like those are just a waste of time.
Coaching can be the same way; a good coach should help you discover things about yourself that will be useful in reaching your desired goal, while a less skilled one uses their questions to work out their own issues…with you.
Can a coach ask too many questions? Are some questions irrelevant and go nowhere? Are there questions a coach should not ask? Yes, yes, and yes.
There is an old joke about a person who asked too many questions. A teacher reviewed the results of the questions on a quiz with his class, as teachers will do after returning the quizzes to the students. Out of the blue, the teacher asked the class a question. “What did you learn from this exam? I like to think my students learn from a good quiz.” One the students (the brave one) held up his hand. “Yes, Jack, what did you learn?” replied the teacher?” I learned that an idiot can ask more questions than a wise man can answer in one hour.”
Time and effort is rarely
wasted tracking down
answers to challenging questions.
That was not really a very prudent response, but most kids would probably agree.
You need good questions to move the coaching/learning process along. Some coaches are careful with their questions fearing that they will “look stupid.” With practice and supervisory guidance, coaches do learn to ask good, relevant questions. Most good coaching, however, is a result of a good question. Good questions always raise new questions, each answer a step forward in the process. Time and effort is rarely wasted tracking down answers to challenging questions.
Lots of coaches say that every bit of new information is valuable; getting an answer to every conceivable question is their goal. I don’t agree, unless you are playing a game of “Trivial Questions” followed with “Trivial Answers.” Good coaching isn’t a game of trivial questions. A good coach uses their questions to help the client discover new “knowledge” which was given as an answer to a question. The questions must be deep, clear, and relevant.
Today, most of us are all specialists. We, as individuals searching for our personal truth, usually concentrate our searching efforts on finding answers to questions related to our specialty—your work, your relationship, or maybe your family. We all have been taught that if we want to do meaningful work in our lives, we have to focus in a narrow area within our area of expertise.
In our personal growth, the
unanswered questions motivate
leading to growth in our lives.
A good coach may know nothing at all of your area of expertise, but rather clearly understands the process of searching for a variety of answers. While some questions may at first seem to be too broad, or have probable answers of little or no interest, they just might be the foundation of a whole way of living. The goal is to find new ways of seeing or feeling about things related to the client’s reason for the visit in the first place. The client usually finds some answers leading to new insights addressing their challenge, perhaps not noticeably at first. This isn’t like math, where with the help of a computer, almost any question can be settled to the 12 points to the right of the decimal. People just aren’t like that. That is why some people work with computers, or numbers, while others work with people.
Coaches these days are, in some cases, asking questions that weren’t even considered 20 years ago, while other questions are as old as time. Totally new ideas and concepts are rare, even though we think they aren’t. That’s a mistake; simple answers to the deep questions in coaching are rarely found on the surface.
We are always looking for a better answer because the case is never closed, there is always more opportunities for growth. It is important to understand that questions in coaching play as important role in our search personal knowledge as they do for scientific knowledge.
Most coaches place great stock in their ability to determine and ask good questions. That is the goal, isn’t it? But when they imagine that the questions may be more important than answers, they make a mistake.
In coaching and in life, virtually all
answers to are temporary.
The answers change.
The questions remain.
In life, most answers we find are temporary; the questions remain. But these unanswered questions are our lives. Some people today, when asked, really believe their failure to find satisfactory answers to important questions is because we as coaches are not asking the right questions, because none of us really knows what those right questions are. In our personal growth, the unanswered questions motivate continued practice, leading to growth in our lives. In life, some get answered but all of them—including unanswered questions—keep us moving ahead.
Anyone, coach and client alike, who value self-improvement need to develop an appreciation for questions in their search for clarity. Don’t ever avoid difficult questions. New questions, yet unanswered, are gifts and are always just around the corner if you keep on growing. Every new question you find is a chance to learn something new. There is much more to self-improvement than magical thinking or memorizing answers to some dogmatic approach. In coaching and in life, virtually all answers to are temporary. The answers change. The questions remain.
If you like, feel free to give me a call and we can talk about any of them that has you stuck. After all, as a coach, my life is one of questions and helping people seek out the answers.
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Frank Hopkins is a life coach in Baton Rouge who is certified as a Professional Coach (CPC) by the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC). Frank has helped numerous people to go through emotional change in a way that is positively transformative.