When a Question is not a Question – precision in coaching language

When a question is not a question

One of the most powerful coaching skills we have available to us as coaches is asking a question that has the potential to be powerful for the client.

This may seem strange, but not every coach seems to know what a question is. For example, the title of this article is “When a question is not a question.” Is that a question? No, because it ends in a period. It’s actually a statement. But if I’d called this article, “When is a question not a question?” you would naturally add a question mark at the end, which is the litmus test of whether you are asking a question, or making a statement.

ICF Core Competency #6: Powerful Questioning describes this competency as a coach “asks questions to evoke discovery, insight, commitment or action, including those that challenge the client’s assumptions. Coaches ask open-ended questions that create clarity, possibility or new learning, and that move the client towards what they desire. Questions reveal information needed for maximum benefit to the client, and the coaching relationship.” The power of a question is full of possibilities, but only if we ask it as a question.

There’s a bonus offer on “Deconstructing Questions” at the bottom of this article.

As an active ICF Assessor and MCC, PCC and ACC mentor coach who listens to a lot of coaching sessions every week, I hear the following often being used in lieu of a question:

Tell me…


Help me understand….

The intent may be to gather information like you would a question, but these are not questions. They are statements that you might call directive, and even demanding.

A good question is open-ended so that it allows the client space on how to respond, knowing there isn’t a demand to respond in one ‘right’ way. A great question stretches the client’s thinking and perspective in positive ways, incorporating language that has the most positive effect on the client.

“Tell me how you are going to make that change” is very different than asking, “How would you go about making that change?” or “How do you believe you can successfully make that change stick?”

“Describe what you would do as the team leader” is very different than asking, “What is your role as the team leader?” or “How would you describe your role as an inspirational team leader?”

“Help me understand how you think this will succeed” is very different than asking, “What are your thoughts on how you’ll succeed?” or “How would you need to think differently in order to be wildly successful?”

While we never know which question is going to be the most powerful one for the client, a coach has a huge impact on the possible success of a coachee by the thoughtfulness of the question they ask, and the precision of the language they use.


Are you ready to participate in The Mentor Coaching Group commencing on January 7?

Sign up by December 23rd and receive two Bonus Sessions (unless sold out prior). Limited to 7 people:

question“Deconstructing Questions” Value $300! A 90 minute recorded teleconference led by Michael Stratford, MCC and Evolutionary Coach, on how to deconstruct a question in order to reconstruct it in a more powerful way.



michael_stratford“Centering in Your Coaching Presence” live session. Value $500! How to stay grounded with your clients when internal or external interference makes you feel off center during a session.