Every coaching conversation is different: different client, different context, different topic, etc. Coaches have to be able to flex and adapt to all those differences in order to provide valuable coaching. But while every coaching conversation will unfold in its own unique way, there are some things that need to happen in practically every coaching conversation (I say “practically” because there’s always that 1% chance you’ll need to deviate).
What needs to happen in every coaching conversation? Several things:
- The client needs to find focus on one topic (or at least one topic at a time)
- The client needs to generate new awareness about the topic, include new options for moving forward
- Options need to be translated into actions
- Actions need to be designed
One of the things I often hear coaches struggle with is that first bullet: helping the client find focus on a topic. This struggle can take on multiple forms:
- Some coaches struggle to invite the client to state clearly what they want to be coached on (the topic). Sometimes these coaches just chit chat with the client and wait for the client to steer the conversation toward something that sounds like a coachable topic. The telltale sign of this struggle is the coach’s question: “Is that something you want to be coached on?”
- Some coaches struggle to facilitate new awareness about the topic before diving into possible actions. These coaches hear what sounds like a topic and then jump too soon to asking questions like “What could you do about that?”
- Other coaches let their own experience and biases cause the coach to reframe the topic to match what is familiar to the coach. For example, a client might say she is struggling to get started on her book, to which the coach responds, “How could you find time to get started.” The coach assumes the issue is lack of time, but it could just as easily be low motivation, lack of clarity on the topic, or a hundred other things.
I encourage coaches to ask three key questions near the beginning of every coaching conversation. These three questions help with finding focus so the coaching conversation can move toward a clear target. Obviously you don’t have to ask these questions the exact same way I do or ask them the same way every time, so I’ve given some different variations. Pick the one that works best for you or find your own way to ask the question.
- What do you want to be coached on today? Where would you like to focus today? What’s our topic today? I see on your prep form you listed three possible topics, which one do you want to start with?
You need to explicitly ask the client what they want to focus on rather than wait for it to emerge. This question signals to both of you that it’s time to get to business. And just to be clear, a question like “How’s it going?” is not an invitation to state a coaching topic, so don’t expect that kind of question to invite the client to share a coaching focus.
- When it comes to (topic), what’s your big goal? Where do you want to be with (topic) in a year? What about this is most meaningful for you?
A topic needs a goal or a purpose, so it’s very clarifying to help the client come to new awareness about where they’re headed with this topic or what about this topic is really driving them. Sometimes I even pull this question apart and ask about goal and motivation separately.
- What can we do in this conversation to help you move forward? What’s the best way for us to process this? Where do you hope to be by the end of our conversation? When we get to the end of our conversation, what do you hope to walk away with? What kind of progress do you want to make on this today?
Once the topic has been stated and given an overall direction and purpose, this question invites the client to establish a measure of success for the conversation. Every conversation needs a target at which to aim our efforts and keep us on agenda.
My encouragement for you is not that you ask these questions in some sort of robotic or formulaic fashion, but that they inspire you to find your own ways to be more intentional about helping the client state the topic, clarify their goal for the topic, and establish a measure of success for the coaching session. Doing so will help ensure that every coaching conversation is as effective as possible.
What about you? What types of questions do you ask to help the client name the topic, clarify their goal, and establish a measure of success?