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Asking Empowering Questions

By Martha Lasley, Virginia Kellogg,
Richard Michaels & Sharon Brown

Coaching for Transformation
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Despite conventional perceptions, coaches don’t give advice. The whole idea is to get people to consider their situation and come to solutions on their own. The path to this understanding starts with curious, empowering questions. Empowering questions are open-ended questions that invite people to ponder, consider, open, notice, discover and awaken. They create insights, “ah-ha” moments and opportunities. Open questions invite engagement and body-mind connection.

Empowering questions typically begin with “What” or “How” and are often simple, intuitive or spontaneous. Questions that begin with “When” can also be empowering when they are not used to satisfy the coach’s desire for information that is extraneous to the client’s agenda. “Why” questions tend to create defensiveness and cut off connection. Questions that can be answered with simply “Yes” or “No” are considered closed questions that limit exploration, possibility and dialogue.

Other criteria for empowering questions

Lead to clarification

Call for introspection

Address a paradox

Connect to the person’s needs and desires

Consider a new perspective

Help the person see the issue in a different light

Move into depth or new territory

Bring light to inner conflict

Get to the root of a belief or pattern

Face fear and learn from it

Ask something new

Create specific engagement

Invite deep reflection

Elicit feedback

Generate movement

Examples of empowering questions

Probing Questions

What do you want?

What’s important about that?

What are you excited about?

What is your intention?

What are you overlooking?

Clarifying Values

What do you care about in this situation?

What value does this experience have for you?

What do you want?

If you get that, then what do you want?

How does this plan honor your values?

What are you committed to?

Setting Stretch Goals

If you knew you’d succeed, what else would you do?

If you were to raise the bar, what would it look like?

How can you play a bigger game?

What’s the big picture?

What action would really excite you?

Expanding Options

What is possible?

If you had a magic wand, what would you do?

What impact would you like to have?

What are your choices?

What would be possible if you did not censor yourself?

Getting Support

Who can help you navigate the cultural differences?

What do you need help with?

Who can help you with that?

What can you delegate?

What request can you make?

If you knew they’d say yes, who would you ask for help?

Action Questions

How do you plan to achieve that?

How can you break that down into smaller steps?

What are you going to do? By when? Who will you tell?

Is there anything else you need to do?

On a scale of 1 to 10, how committed are you to this plan?

Breaking through Barriers

What’s stopping you?

In an ideal world, how would you face this problem?

What would motivate you to change?

What would it cost you if things remain the way they are?

Pretend you know the answer…

Reducing Sense of Overwhelm

What can you say “no” to?

What can you stop doing so that you can make room for what’s important?

What can you stop tolerating?

What are you doing now that’s working?

If you only focused on one thing, what would it be?

Eliciting Wisdom

What might you do differently next time?

What does your heart tell you about this?

When you’re at your best, what’s different?

What do you know in your gut?

What do you really want?

The questions below can be useful as you move into deeper coaching:

Connecting with Soul

Aliveness—where are you most alive?

Depth—what is the deepest or wildest possibility?

Let go into—what is it to sink into yourself?

Alignment—with what are you most aligned in your life?

Being with—what is it to be with yourself?

Connecting with Spirit

Wholeness—what does it mean to be whole?

Passion—where does your passion live inside you?

Surrender—what is it to surrender to a greater good?

Trust—what do you trust with every cell in your body?

Stretch—where does the Universe want you to stretch next?

Love—how can you create a loving culture at work?

Connecting with the Body

Laughter—what brings out your laughter?

Lightness—where do your worries disappear?

Energy—when have you found yourself uplifted?

Movement—what moves you?

Sensuality—in what ways does your body flow?

Beauty—what is it to love and appreciate every part of your body?

Engaging the Mind

Best thinking—how do you tap the full capacity of your mind?

Ideas—what is possible?

Vision—if you could have anything, what would you want?

Possibility—what else?

Judgment—what values are at stake for you?

Choice—where do you choose to put your attention?

Connection with Emotions

Acceptance—how can you embrace your emotions?

Happy—what are you celebrating?

Fear—what is your fear calling you to do?

Grief—what opportunities have you missed?

Sadness—what is sweet about sadness?

Shame—what healing are you longing for?

Anger—what about your anger calls you forth?


Excerpt from the book Coaching for Transformation: Pathways to Ignite Personal & Social Change by Martha Lasley, Virginia Kellogg, Richard Michaels and Sharon Brown. As faculty at Leadership that Works, they certify coaches who offer personal, organization and community transformation. Check out the free Power of Coaching teleclass.

Coaching is life-changing, world-changing work. The coaching programs at Leadership that Works go beyond theories and models and work with clients on a deeper level. You learn how to coach the whole person: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Whole person Transformation.

Leadership that Works

Transforming the world.
One heart at a time.

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