Smart coaches aren’t as smart as you might think

Smart coaches aren’t as smart as you might think


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Asking questions is an art form. As a coach it’s one you cannot afford not to master to an above average degree: a successful coaching process depends on it.

If you have ever picked up a how-to book about coaching, you will undoubtedly have been presented with at least a chapter on types of questions, questioning techniques and perhaps even lists of coaching questions to ask. With that, the question (if you pardon the pun) of what makes a good question hasn’t really been addressed.

You see, the quality and usefulness of a question depends on timing and context, the intentions of the asker and the openness of the recipient.

Good question!

Asking good questions – well-timed, appropriate, relevant, and posed in an understandable way – can really make a coach look smart. Noticing that I have just asked my client The Big One That Changes Everything is wonderful: this is what makes coaching great. It does come with a side effect that makes me uncomfortable, which is that it can change the dynamics between me and my client. Good questions can make me look smart in their eyes, and I have a problem with that.

Don’t get me wrong, of course I hope I am not stupid in the eyes of my clientèle! But as coaching is based on principles of partnership, equality between coach and client, and what we term unconditional positive regard for the client, being perceived as smart or smarter than the client themselves can create distance where there shouldn’t be any.

The purpose of coaching is not for your coach to outwit you, but to be with you as your comrade while you’re travelling somewhere new, uncovering new angles and perspectives as you go along. Although that can look very clever, the real expert in all this is you, and your coach knows this.

So next time your coach asks you a very good question and you feel admiration for their ability, remind yourself of this: asking stonkingly good questions is what we do for a living. Were you not expecting to be asked some?

Being someone’s coach is a humbling experience. As flattered as we may feel at times by our clients’ appreciation, truly smart coaches know that they know nothing at all.