In the last blog post, we explored a helpful application of why questions for coaches, called the 5 Whys.
The 5 Whys can be a powerful coaching technique that digs beneath a presenting issue or situation and discovers underlying reasons/causes. The 5 Whys are especially effective at discovering cause-and-effect relationships.
But for coaches, ‘why?’ questions open a myriad of challenges. They put us at risk of stopping forward momentum, getting into counseling situations, and getting caught up in details that don’t focus on the “bottom line” of the coaching situation.
An old friend of mine who is a football coach says “The details make you dangerous.” I think that’s true for coaches, especially if we get focused on the wrong details! And that’s exactly the unhelpful risk why questions set us up to take.
The danger of why questions is something that gets covered on the first day of coach training! We need another way forward!
What questions are more effective for coaching. Let’s try to apply What questions to the cause-and-effect structure of the 5 Whys.
The key insight that has to drive this approach is to facilitate learning for the client first, then go after results. This is the gateway to masterful coaching.
Here’s a coaching strategy I use to pair the structure of the 5 Whys with the power of What questions. This strategy really builds on the trust and intimacy you have with a client.
In my coaching practice, this strategy has been most effective when I have some history with the client (6 or more sessions), but it can be used in the first few sessions of a coaching relationship as well.
Start by asking the client to pick an emotional challenge or moment that has happened recently. Invite the client to go back to the moment and remember what the thoughts, feelings and emotions they were having at that time.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Make sure the client can feel the emotion of the moment. The emotions of the moment provide the roadmap to deeper awareness.
Once the client has this moment in mind, start with the 7 Whats. These questions are strategically ordered to start with the issue, go beneath the surface, identify the cause of the emotion and then explore actions the client might be able to take to address the issue.
Let’s look at the 7 Whats. With the emotion in mind, ask these questions:
1. What’s causing the emotion? This question invites the client to start from a deeper place than just feeling the emotion.
2. What is positive about it? Negative? Now the client is evaluating the impact of the emotion. This question adds context.
3. What’s behind that reaction? With a little context, the client can then look a little more deeply at what is actually going on. Faith-driven coaches may stop for a moment of clarifying prayer with this question.
4. What’s at the root of your reaction/situation? Now we’re at the real cause. You may need to repeat questions 1–4 a couple times to really get at the root.
5. What does that tell you about yourself? We’ve gone now into facilitating learning. The client has a chance to make assessments about themselves and to embrace the things they are realizing about themselves. NEVER insist that a client realize a particular thing about themselves or embrace an opinion of yours.
6. What action(s) can you take to grow? What can you do to make this growth a habit? Question 6 is where the hard work begins. You are inviting the client to not only talk about the root issue, but also to name the change they want to make and to lay out a plan for bringing it to life.
7. What can you do to stay accountable and on track with this change? The key here is to help the client find their own accountability plan and to not build dependence on the coach.
A simple question structure like this will help you go deeper with each client AND to draw out of the client action steps that they are willing to take to make a change that will last.
When you repeat a process like this with a client, you can move into a coached prevention mode. With a few repetitions, clients will anticipate the line of questioning and begin to diagnose key issues on-the-fly and in-the-moment. You’ll start farther into the process and your coaching will become more effective!
What strategies do you use to dig beneath the surface in coaching?