Many of us wear the hat of a coach in our daily lives – be it at work or home. The secret to being a good coach is not in having ready solutions for problems you are being approached for. Rather it is really in influencing others in finding their own solutions. This can be achieved primarily by getting them “Thinking” by asking influential and powerful questions. These questions could get people get answers to those questions that usually they don’t ask themselves and identify a viable solution to the challenge they face.

This blog is an excerpt from an interactive session I conducted on focusing on Thinking through Powerful Questions. Through this blog, I would like to reiterate the role of a coach as an Influencer and guide who can get people to think about the problems and arrive at viable solutions. Powerful questioning is a “powerful” technique that can be used to achieve the aforementioned.

The common mistake: When a person with a problem approaches us as a coach, we usually jump into the problem right away. This is a typical mistake that we do in our day to day lives. Ideally, we should not look at the problem, instead only focus on the person’s thinking so that he solves the problem. The focus should be on making the person understand the problem and their own mind loops.

Usually most have a clear goal, which they often struggle to achieve. This is because they may do things that are exactly opposite of the goal, which only they can recognize. Hence, as a coach the focus should not be about motivating someone, it should be about showing them what their problem is and introspect. The focus should only be on helping them Think.

Many of us would have comeacross people in our lives who did this job for us. These could be people who really influenced your life by asking you something that just got you Thinking

Challenges in many forms: Majority of behavioral problems can be solved by those who are facing it themselves. These are not technical problems, but are attitude problems that result in thinking barriers and create mind traps.

Let’s consider an example where one goes to a fitness coach. The person starts blaming the coach that his methods have failed to work. This is a trap because no one can validate this. In contrast a doctor can guarantee that fever will subside by taking a tablet. The difference here is that the feedback loop is small and it’s a short-term goal. In scenarios where the goals are short-term and feedback loop is short, validation becomes easier.

If the goal is long-term in nature, only the person in the game can achieve that. In such cases, you as a coach should focus on helping them to Think.

Long-term goals: Losing weight by 10-15 kgs would be a long term goal, where the feedback loop is long and validation becomes difficult. Let’s take an example of a typical challenge in the IT industry. It could be a project manager who doesn’t listen to instructions and another example could be stakeholder management. These are difficult problems to provide solutions for. In this case the scrum master should solve the problem. In all these cases there is no readymade solution. Solution will emerge only as you try different strategies. Hence, the only option is to make the guy think and find out his own solution.

When the cycle of feedback is long, one has to trust their own solution. With long-term goals, usually it is difficult to get a commitment from someone to abide by the plan provided to him/her. However, if the plan is created by the person him/herself, then the he/she will commit to it. Hence for any long term plan, the solution has to be thought out by the person themselves to ensure commitment and success.This can be achieved by making the person think and arrive at the solution by asking powerful questions.

How do you define a powerful question?

In any conversation not all the questions will be powerful and at times you need to seek some information so that you can reach to a stage where you can ask a powerful question.
If someone approaches you and says that he wants to become an Agile coach, then even before asking a powerful question, one need to know a few basics such as – What are you doing? How are things going? And then ask powerful question such as what do you want to achieve becoming an Agile coach?

Always start the discussion with information seeking questions and then move to powerful questions. In fact, powerful questions need not be more that 30-40% of your total conversation. But this 30-40% of the conversation is what will make the person think about the solution.

It is also easy to spot the powerful question. Ifyou ask a question and the opposite person takes a pause, then its most likely a powerful question. This is because there’s no readymade answer available to the question and you have succeeded in getting the person to Think.

The complete Ice-berg: In many cases, we need to take the iceberg approach. The tip of the iceberg is the result that we are after, which is clearly visible. In order to reach there, one needs to start from the bottom. The bottom most can be considered as the Thinking – what the person is thinking; the next section is Feeling – how he feels about it and next portion is Behavior – how he behaves. The behavior has a direct impact on the result.

When a person thinks about a problem/project, he/she would start to feel about it, which will influence their behavior and in turn impacting the final result. This is the reason why powerful questions are focused on thinking as they are the bedrock of the results to be achieved.

So as a coach you first ask powerful questions to understand the needs and get the person thinking. Thinking is a key skill required in solving problems and finding solutions. When you develop a good thinking skill, it can be applied anywhere. It is a universal skill that can be applied to any profession and any situation. As a coach, we should focus on not solving the problems, but enabling others to think and identify their own solutions to problems through Powerful Questions.

You can view the detailed discussions and classroom interactions on this topic using the below link: