The sublime art of asking one coaching question that changes everything

The best coaches do less, not more. The more you talk, the less you learn about the client and how he is thinking about his challenge. The more you step in and solve the client’s problem, the less you allow the client to develop. Coaching is about building capacity and developing people, not about showing how much you know.

Consider the ideal of finding just one question to ask during a coaching session, a question that somehow changes everything for the client.

Perhaps you have had the good fortune of being in a meeting with an executive who had a similar gift. He patiently listens to all of the points of view in the room, and then he asks a simple question that changes the way everyone thinks about the issue.

Something like this happened in the carbonated beverage industry, and changed the entire vision, strategy, and conversation among its biggest competitors. Imagine a strategic planning meeting at one of the biggest companies in the industry. As usual, everyone is talking about how the company can increase share of market among carbonated soft drinks.

Suddenly, someone asks, “What would be a different way to think about market share than share of beverages sold?”

This simple question led to a massive insight: “What if we stop thinking about share of the carbonated beverage market and think about share of stomach?” Now the people around the table see the opportunity to sell other beverages, like sports drinks, fruit juice, and bottled water. They also see the possibility of marketing snack foods, restaurants, and anything else related to food and beverage consumption. The entire focus of the company – and soon the industry — expands dramatically, as does its growth potential. One question changes everything.

As a coach, unlike with this example you don’t have to come up with earth shattering questions every coaching session or even every engagement. The idea of asking one question that changes everything is an ideal. It’s not possible to do this all the time. Not every coaching session has huge breakthroughs or cathartic moments. However, the concept of one-question-coaching is a good one to keep in mind to make sure that you are focused on listening and asking questions that bring high impact and value to the person you are coaching. And again, the best coaching questions are often the simplest, like the six key questions described in an earlier chapter. Even asking the client for his ideas to solve a problem can open up possibilities. 


As you practice coaching, think before you ask a question. Consider whether it will move things forward for your client. Does your question have a little bit of voltage to it, so that it gets the client thinking? Does it allow the client to see new possibilities, see things in a new way, and at least move forwards towards insights and action? By thinking about these questions, you are on the path to the idea of asking one question that changes everything.


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