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Starting a coaching engagement with a new client can be both exciting and challenging. As a coach, it is important for you to establish a productive conversation and build a strong relationship with the client from the outset.
One effective way to achieve this is by asking the right questions to kick off the coaching engagement. Here, 16 Forbes Coaches Council members share some of the questions they use to launch a productive conversation with a new client, including questions about goals, values and challenges. Digging into some of these areas up front may help you and your new client establish a clear vision for the coaching engagement, building trust and rapport and laying the groundwork for a successful coaching relationship.
1. What have you been doing consistently to get in your own way?
Most people come into coaching sessions with a subconscious desire to absolve themselves of responsibility and blame everyone but themselves for the unsatisfactory results they have. This question immediately forces them to take personal responsibility and look at their sabotaging behaviors. – Steve Harris, EdgeEcution
2. What’s your dream scenario?
The go-to question I use most often is, “What’s your dream scenario?” followed by, “What would it mean to you to accomplish this goal?” and, “Is there anything holding you back?” I rely on these questions because they help me understand the client’s aspirations, motivations and obstacles, which are essential for building a coaching plan that is tailored to their unique needs and goals. – Catherine B. Roy, LHM International by Catherine B. Roy
3. What is your greatest hope in our working together?
To begin any coaching process, I need an understanding of how my client perceives their own capability and potential. I want to know what a fully realized coaching process would look like, and finally, any barriers or obstacles standing between them and reaching their peak performance goals. – Daphne Michaels, Daphne Micheals International
4. What do you want to make true for yourself?
What do you want to make true for yourself that’s not currently true, but if it were, would make all the difference in the world? This question hits right at the heart of a client’s biggest aspirations and catapults the conversation immediately into possibility instead of limitation. It’s one of the most powerful ways to set the tone for our work together. – Amy Wong, Always On Purpose
5. Where do you see yourself and your business in 10 years?
Where do you see yourself and the business in the next 10 years? I rely on this question because it provides a few areas of objectivity. First, my team and I get to hear the passion and the “why” behind what they started, as well as where their mindset is. It also shows how much of a “roadmap” needs to be created and what their involvement and responsibility will be in making this happen. – Chris Aird, With Purpose
6. What is a successful outcome for our session today?
I use this early on because executives and leaders come in with a lot on their mind. This helps to focus them on what is important to them today and to think forward about what solutions they are seeking to find. – Jill Bornstein, Upnext Leadership Coaching
7. What does success look like?
I find that this question provides spaciousness for the client to define what will happen that will make this coaching engagement a success. This often leads to a more in-depth conversation about what it is they want and how they will know when they have it. – Heather Soubra, Wiser Way Coaching
8. How do you want to feel at the end of the session?
This question immediately helps support the client in getting into their body and out of their head to feel a sense of presence. Somatic coaching is so important, as so many sit in coaching sessions completely disconnected, but often saying what they think their coach may want to hear. – Caroline Strawson, School of Embodied Trauma Informed Living
9. What’s your story?
I start every coaching engagement with a new leader in my coaching program with this question. Every leader has a story explaining who they are and why they lead. But until they are asked directly to answer this question, they may not share their story. Until I hear and understand that story, we are not prepared to move forward in the coaching process. – Paul Glover, Paul Glover Coaching
10. What is predictable in life, given the course you’re on?
One of my favorite questions to ask of a new—or even a prospective—client is, “What is predictable in your professional and personal life, given the course you are on?” There are two things I like about this question. First, it causes my client to visualize what will happen if they don’t take action to change that course. Second, it creates a strong “reason why” to take that action. – Brian Bartes, LifeExcellence
11. What makes now the right time to engage in executive coaching?
For the client, this question offers the space to share what is most important to them. For me, it allows me to listen and understand their current situation, to be curious and to learn about their goals. This is the first step on their coaching journey, and an open interaction helps to build the rapport needed to ultimately build trust. – Adena Johnston, Lateral Group
12. What is going on?
After the brief niceties and small talk, I will ask, “What is going on?” This question is so overly simple, which makes it so revealing. Here is the key: If your client answers with a vague or general answer, such as “not much” or a similar avoidance answer, then you must respectfully ask them again, “What’s really going on?” Remind them that this is a safe space and that they are paying you to be their trusted advisor. – Paul Silitsky, Paul Allen Career Advisory Group
13. What made you decide to get coaching, and why now?
I find that the thinking process clients utilize to answer my opening question brings greater clarity to their coaching goals. By thinking through and answering it, clients gain a greater understanding of themselves and their journey to coaching. Based on their answers, I ask questions to help them flesh out and fine-tune our starting point. – Ron Young, Trove, Inc.
14. How can I best help you today?
With this question, we can focus on client priorities and anchor our work to the practical. Plus, the answer gives me a window into their current mood and concerns, which helps me buoy their trust that I am here for them and listening with care. It’s a simple question, though not always easy to answer, that points the coaching productively forward no matter the response. – Kathy Morris, Under Advisement, Ltd.
15. Why is coaching important to you?
Understanding the client’s purpose for coaching helps to inform the client as well as the coach about the intent and context behind partnering with a coach. Often, people do not understand the difference between a coach and consultant. This is an opportunity for the coach to align with the client on the purpose and value of coaching. – Dave Cornelius, KNOLSHARE
16. What would you love?
I like to begin by asking, “What would you love?” This opens the conversation into a vista beyond problem solving, creating the possibilities and the results our clients most prefer. – Rachel Madorsky, Love Your Life, LLC
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