Asking the Right Questions Can Make a Big Difference in the Growth Coaching Experience

Asking the Right Questions Can Make a Big Difference in the Growth Coaching Experience
Asking the Right Questions Can Make a Big Difference in the Growth Coaching Experience

School Leadership//

September 19, 2021

A growth coach and coachee relationship and a mentor and mentee relationship are equally valuable.

Both types of relationships take place in a professional atmosphere, and both help the participants strive for career development and advancement. The primary difference between the two types comes down to one word: balance.

A mentor/mentee relationship is, by its nature, unbalanced—the mentor typically has more training and practice in a given field than the mentee, and provides directives and advice.

On the other hand, a growth coach can and often is a colleague and an equal to their coachee. The success of that relationship utilizes a completely different set of rules—facilitating, discovering, and asking the right questions. 

Here’s how asking the right questions can make a big difference in the growth coaching experience. 

Foundation of Trust

Building trust is key to any successful growth coach and coachee pairing. In academia, a professional familiarity already exists, but consider going a little deeper—encouraging the coach to get to know the coachee beyond their resume.

  • What drives them?
  • What are their values?

Developing a sense of give-and-take within the growth coach framework isn’t complicated, yet it is easily overlooked. Taking the time to build a rapport will yield great dividends down the road. Start with small talk—ask about family, vacation plans, etc.

Keep it simple and authentic. Once the basics begin to feel comfortable, the transition to opening up on the larger and more complex issues should happen organically.

Talk Less. Listen More.

Any Hamilton fan will remember that Aaron Burr shared that Alexander Hamilton should “talk less, smile more,” and in this case, that might work well for growth coaches as well. Listen to your coachee. Encouraging your colleague to take control in determining their own path will yield a more successful long-term outcome.

The best way to listen is by asking questions. Here are some to get you started.

Question #1: What’s your goal?

The goal sets the stage. This should be one sentence, with a clear objective and a deadline. Keep the focus on what participants want for themselves, not on what coaches tell them to do.

Helpful coaching questions: Where do you want to grow? What is the challenge you’re trying to overcome?


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Question #2: What brought you here?

Become a journalist. Ask questions that cause the coachee to reveal the external or internal factors that brought them to this point—and use those answers as a catalyst for the next level of questioning. A good coach will gently guide their colleagues to find the root of the problem they want to solve, and not settle for the first issue that arises.

Helpful coaching question: It sounds like XYZ is important to you. Can you tell me more?

Question #3: What are the barriers?

Breaking a behavioral pattern is easier said than done. Getting stuck in a rut is part of the human experience—but it’s how we get out of it that counts. Encourage the participant to employ some “right brain” thinking. Getting creative will foster new ideas and solutions.

Helpful coaching questions: What have you done in the past to tackle XYZ challenge? How could you change that approach?

Question #4: What do you plan to do?

Getting definitive will force a true commitment to the growth plan and the work that lies ahead.

Helpful coaching questions: What decisions can you make now that will move you closer to your goal? What will you do, specifically, and by when?

Question #5: What will you take away?

At the end of each session, conduct a brief assessment—much like a classroom reading comprehension evaluation. Did the colleague retain the information that was discussed? Putting the onus on them to recap will reinforce the session content for both parties.

Helpful coaching question: What was most useful for you, today?

Keep the following rules in mind: 

  • DON’T ask closed questions. A “yes” or “no” response will lead to...nowhere. 
  • DON’T ask leading questions. The role of a growth coach is to get participants to make their own choices. 
  • DON’T worry about the questions being perfect. Just get the participant to think.
  • DON’T ask why the colleague made a professional decision that went badly. They will get defensive and the relationship will be stunted.

A productive growth coaching experience is challenging but attainable—and highly rewarding. Learn how to ask the right questions to yield positive outcomes for everyone involved.

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