A Coaches Secret Weapon: The Powerful Question!

Par Dominique Dancause

When it comes to coaching, people often talk about active listening. In fact, this boils down to the ability to ask the right questions, i.e. the ones that allow coaches to push their “coachees” to re-examine themselves, expand their horizons and light a spark.

To reach this goal, coaches have a major – even mandatory – resource at their disposal: the powerful question. This refers to a question aimed at:

  • Revealing something
  • Sparking the revelation of unknown elements
  • Helping someone realize something or gain a new perspective
  • Provoking objective observation
  • Leading to a more accurate perception
  • Changing someone’s vision of reality and expanding their horizons
  • Taking a step back
  • Helping someone to better understand something
  • Encouraging a new discovery

To be efficient, these questions absolutely must be:

  • Open-ended
  • Simple and brief
  • Significant for the person who has to answer them
  • Relevant to important issues
  • Revealing
  • Often unexpected
  • Sometimes even surprising

Experienced coaches will always be very quick to know if a question is really powerful or not, because a question that hits the mark will generally be met by initial silence. This silence must not be broken. If the response comes without missing a beat, then the question was not really powerful, because the “coachee” was neither surprised nor caught off guard, and the desired result was not achieved.

Three Approaches

Three approaches may be used to identify and formulate a powerful question, depending on the coach’s objective and the desired result.

The importance and usefulness of the powerful question stem from the fact that coaches are not teachers: they’re guides. In fact, the only thing they’re allowed to teach is the wisdom of Aristotle: the art of knowing thyself.

So go ahead, coaches: ask away!



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