What does it mean and what are some examples? 

From the ICF definition: Powerful Questioning

  • Ability to ask questions that reveal the information needed for maximum benefit to the coaching relationship and the client.
  • Clear direct questions that lead to new insight and move the client forward. Open ended questions using ‘What’ and ‘How’ that are clear, direct and succinct.

As coaches we spend on lot of time asking questions with ‘Powerful questioning’ a key competency for accreditation as an ICF coach.

One of the stumbling blocks I found as a beginner coach was to find that one question which created the ‘aha’ moment – the right question that produced the ‘Eureka’ moment for the client and, while searching my mind for the right thing to ask, I would not only not listen attentively but allow the momentum of the conversation to be lost.

I learned that an excellent technique to deal with this is to turn to a very simple question, like, “Tell me more…” or “What else…?” The benefit of this is that they don’t interrupt the person’s thought process nor does it sound stilted.

For example: “You mentioned that ___________.tell me more about that.”

Where possible, use open-ended questions. Open-ended questions are those that are not answered with “yes” or “no.”  Questions starting with “Why,” “How,” and “What” are more powerful compared to those that start with simple “Who,’ “When,” “Where,” and “Which” – this is because powerful questions motivate more reflective thinking and a more profound level of conversation.

Below are just a few questions that can have powerful effects on your client’s work and life. If you substitute ‘I’ for ‘you’ in the questions you can coach yourself.

Ask your questions without leading, prompting or interrupting your client and suspend any assumptions. Listen carefully to the answers.

  • What is import to you at the moment? What would you like to focus on here and now?
  • What is it that you’d like to see accomplished? Followed up by ‘how do you see it happening?’
  • If you couldn’t possibly fail – what would you do?
  • If money / time / health wasn’t a restriction for you, what would you do?
  • What are your thoughts? Do you have any concerns?
  • What is working well for you at the moment?
  • What isn’t working well at the moment?
  • What’s the most important priority for you?
  • What would you like to see improved?
  • Can you help me understand that a little better?
  • What’s in the way of improved performance? How can I change that?
  • If you could change one thing in your life/business that would have the greatest impact, what would it be?
  • What prevents you from being able to place more focus on this?
  • What self-limiting fears, thoughts or actions do you want to leave behind?
  • Are your actions today compatible with what you wish to leave behind as a legacy?
  • What would be the impact of your decision … in 5 months / 5 years?
  • If you saw someone else in your situation, what would you suggest they do?


Traits of Strategic Questions

Strategic type questions  (from “Strategic Questioning” by Peavey, in ‘In Context’ No. 40):

  1. Creates motion — Gears to “How can we move?”
  2.  Creates options — Instead of “Why don’t you ..?”, asks “Where would you …?”
  3.  Digs deeper — “What needs to be changed?” “What is the meaning of this?”
  4. Avoids “why.”
  5.  Avoids “yes” and “no” questions — These leave the presenter in a passive or uncreative state.
  6.   Empowers — “What would you like to do?”
  7.  Asks the ‘unaskable’ questions.


As a coach you can convert closed questions to open questions by restating the question with ‘What” or ‘How’ as shown in the following examples:

  • “Could there be any other ways to approach that?” restated as “How else could you approach that?”
  • “Is there a way to do that and still keep evenings for family?” restated as “What could you do to still keep evenings for family?”
  • “Can you realistically take that on too?” restated as “How would your life change if you take that on, too?”
  • “Do you have any other options?” restated as “What other options do you have?”


Powerful questions help you:

  • Connect with your clients in a more meaningful way
  • Understand your client’s problem more fully
  • Work with your colleagues more effectively
  • Take the sting out of feedback
  • Gather better information
  • Do more solution oriented problem solving

The following are examples questions that can help you improve your communication and understanding of the client or staff member.

Identification of issue:

These questions can be used in client interviews and meetings,  negotiations and to work with others in solving problems.

What seems to be the problem/ trouble?

What do you make of _________? What concerns you the most about _____________?

How do you feel about _____________? What seems to be your main obstacle? What is holding you back from _________________?

Further information:

These questions are useful when finding out what someone has already done to resolve a work problem eg change management project or audit review process.

What do you mean by __________? Tell me more about _______________ What else? What other ways did you try so far? What will you have to do to get the job done?


These questions can be used in negotiations;  problem solving; setting goals and when planning how to do something.

What is your desired outcome?

What benefits would you like to get out of ‘X’?

How do you want ____________ to turn out? What do you want? What do you propose? What is your plan? If you do this, how will it affect ________ ? What else do you need to consider? 

Taking Action:

These questions can be used in working with colleagues and teams.

What will you do?

When will you do it? How will I know you did it? What are your next steps?

Behind effective questioning is also the ability to listen to the answer, the vocabulary used and suspend judgment. This means being intent on understanding what the person is really saying and understanding what is behind their words,  Effective listen includes being curious; asking questions for clarity as well as silence – giving the person we are listening to time to answer the questions.

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