Coaching Questions: A Key to Unlocking Employee Potential

May 26, 2023・5 mins read
Coaching Questions: A Key to Unlocking Employee Potential

For any small business looking to boost the potential of its workforce, coaching is an option that provides a mutual benefit for your business and employees. Why? A good coach (or mentor) motivates and encourages employees and helps them develop their skill sets. This leads to improvements in both their professional and personal performance.

Coaching is not just about providing feedback, but also about knowing how to listen thoughtfully and ask the right questions. The strategic use of coaching questions is crucial for a successful coaching conversation.

In this article, we’ll break down the benefits of coaching questions. We’ll also look at different types of questions that can bring meaning and depth to a coaching session.

The Role of Coaching Questions in Goal Setting

One of the primary objectives of coaching is to help employees reach clear and achievable goals. Coaching frameworks should reflect the purpose and desired outcome of the coaching program, both for the employee and the company. When these elements are aligned, coaching sessions will be more productive. Coaching skills will be put to better use when everyone agrees on what winning means.

Powerful questions can help us define goals, identify obstacles, create action plans and measure progress. The right questions, asked in the right way, can help us coach employees effectively. However, each employee can be a treasure trove of important information about your business. Asking the right questions can unlock a person's potential and uncover important information about your operations.

Types of Coaching Questions

Coaching questions are an important tool for employee management. Here, we’ll describe various types of questions to ask and provide examples.

Open-ended questions

Open-ended questions allow for a more detailed response, encouraging each team member to share their thoughts and feelings. This provides their coach with better insight into their current reality.

  • What are your thoughts on the situation?
  • Can you tell me more about that?
  • What are your goals for the next six months?

Closed-ended questions

Closed-ended questions are more specific and, often, require a simple yes or no answer. They are useful for gathering information and getting clear answers about how your employees feel.

  • Did you complete the task on time?
  • How many times has that problem occurred in the past month?
  • Have you ever faced a similar problem?
  • Do you feel confident about your abilities in your current position?

Probing questions

Probing questions are designed to get team members to think more deeply about a particular issue. They encourage reflection and can help the employee uncover the cause of a problem.

  • Why do you think this happened?
  • What would happen if you tried a different approach?
  • How can you overcome this obstacle?

Reflective questions

Often, employees learn from their own experiences. Reflective questions are used to help people evaluate their own performance and progress and gain insights from those experiences. They encourage self-reflection and can also help the employee identify areas for improvement.

  • What did you learn from this experience?
  • How did you handle that situation?
  • What could you have done differently?

Clarifying questions

Clarifying questions are used to ensure that the coach and employee understand each other. These questions help clear up any confusion or misunderstandings.

  • Can you further explain what you mean?
  • Can you give me an example?
  • Do you mean X or Y?

Goal-setting questions

Goal-setting questions are designed to help the employee set clear goals. The questions can spark internal motivation, helping employees develop a plan to achieve their goals.

  • What are your long-term career goals?
  • What new skills would you like to develop?
  • Where do you see yourself in 12 months?

Problem-solving questions

Problem-solving questions are used to help an employee identify and solve problems. They encourage employees to think critically and search for ways of solving challenges.

  • What new challenges are preventing you from achieving your goals?
  • What steps can you take to overcome those obstacles?
  • What resources do you need to achieve your goals?

How to Make the Most of Effective Coaching Questions

Asking great coaching questions is only half of the equation. Coaches need to listen and process the answers. Here are some ways a good coach can quickly process answers to coaching questions.

Active listening

Active listening is one of the best coaching tools mentors can use. It involves paying close attention to what a person says and demonstrating that you are listening by asking specific follow-up questions or paraphrasing what they said. It's an approach you might use with a close friend. Active listening helps the coach better understand the employee's perspective, making them feel heard and understood.

Non-judgmental questioning

Non-judgmental questioning involves asking questions with no intention to reach a conclusion or to judge the employee's response. By doing this, coaches can create a safe space for employees to share their thoughts and feelings. This allows for building trust and promoting honest communication.

Empathetic questioning

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person from their point of view. Empathetic questioning involves asking questions that show empathy for an employee's situation. Again, there is no hint of judging or trying to uncover possible solutions. The questions are about building trust and rapport, which can help to create a more productive coaching relationship.

Powerful questioning

Powerful questioning challenges the employee to think critically and deeply about their situation. An effective coaching question can help the employee identify blind spots and assumptions, and they can help the coach to get to the root of issues.

Curiosity and humility

Curiosity and humility involve approaching coaching with a beginner's mindset, being open to new ideas and perspectives. Here, the coach is asking questions to learn from the employee. By demonstrating curiosity and humility, the coach can create a learning environment that encourages professional growth and development.

One More Question

Do you want to learn more about coaching employees? The experts at TriNet can help you with that and many other HR functions.

At TriNet, we provide HR solutions to help with your needs, giving you the tools to help you optimize and grow your business and so you can retain the best talent to keep you moving forward. We offer industry-specialized experience to help you take your business to the next level.

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