The Case of the Curious Coach

October 19, 2012 § 2 Comments

This post is from PEC’s Life Coach, Maria Shepard-Smith.  

Can a fortunate cookie help you with your life or career decisions? A coach can ask the right questions to guide and empower you!

In Coaching, to help the client move forward the coach asks a series of powerful –open ended questions. The questions are very different from conventional questions that help to gather information and deduce answers. Open ended questions set the stage for the client to think, really think, and find solutions in themselves rather than in the coach. The way the questions are asked and the nature of the questions makes the client resourceful and removes the coach from the role of the ‘expert’ or the one who has the answers.

Here are a few examples that show the difference between conventional questions and open-ended questions. Test them on yourself or someone else to see how conventional questions elicit information and open-ended questions evoke personal exploration.

Conventional Question Open-Ended Question
Tell your boss you need help on this project. If you were the boss, how would you design this project?
What are you doing to achieve your goal of being healthier? What would ‘being healthier’ look like to you?
Are you stuck between those two alternatives? What would be several other alternatives besides these two.

As you can see, an open-ended question allows the client to explore and discover choices. Believe it or not clients come up with so many possibilities that they surprise themselves. My clients are energized and in a word, empowered. The client’s sense of being able to imagine and develop solutions and plans generates a greater capacity in the client to move forward and take action. The coach’s goal is to clarify and create awareness without superimposing their own values and ideas on the client!

Although an experienced coach is aware when practicing ‘curiosity’ in the form of questions to empower another, we all have the ability and have used the technique in some form or fashion.

An example that comes to mind, before I was aware of the value of open-ended questions, is one about my daughter. When she was about 7, she had the sad experience that many 2nd graders have of not being able to participate in recess. She had been talking to another student during class time and of course lost the privilege of play time that day. Rather than scold her right off, (a fallback for parents because it makes us feel better…after all bad behavior reflects on us as parents)… ….. I decided to ask her what she thought she should do.

She though for a few minutes and said, “I think I will not sit near Tina from now on during our class work time.” Perfect! So what was achieved (1)- my daughter gained the ability or the beginning of the ability to work out a solution on her ownwithout me imposing one or ‘the right parental’ solution. (2)-I was enlightened by the fact that hey…she can figure out what to do when faced with a quandary and without me jumping in to give her the answer.

The coach has to do the same for their client. That is to step back and through open-ended questions- allow the answers to surface.

Those clients who come to me for life and/or career coaching usually are facing a series of intertwined challenges. Although it is helpful to work with an expert who will be able to give advice or outline solutions, the real value of coaching is the opportunity to learn ‘how to figure it out’.

When my clients reach the place where they have the awareness that they actually do have the ability to come up with choices they are absolutely motivated to take action. Coaching is a way of effectively empowering people to find their own answers. Coaching is a way of encouraging and supporting clients on their path as they continue to make important choices in life and in their careers.

Tune in for more on about how coaching works and how you can benefit! Call Maria at 410-799-1097 ext 304 or email her at


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