Should Coaches Ask “Why” Questions?

Coaching questions are the stock and trade of professional life, business, and executive coaches. Knowing what to ask, when to ask, and how to ask coaching questions is a major part of becoming an effective coach. But there are certain types of questions that tend to be frowned upon, because they often yield poor results.

Those include “leading questions” that back clients into corners, as well as “closed-ended questions” that reduce curiosity, and then there are “Why questions” that slow down the process.

Many a coaching manual, course or training will encourage a different type of question, what coaches sometimes call “powerful questions”, or “awareness-building questions”. These can often be spotted by the words they start with: What, When, How, Who, If.

Some powerful awareness-building questions:

If you had everything you need, what would you do?

Who would you have to become successful?

How could you do it?

When have you been in a situation like this, before?

What does this mean to you?

Questions like these help to open up a client’s awareness of who s/he is and what’s really possible. They take coaching to a higher level and help clients expand their impact in more ways than just goal completion. They also make coaching more fun.

So why shouldn’t coaches ask, “Why”?

Here are some reasons:

“Why” questions encourage analysis of the situation and you’d be surprised at how little analysis helps in coaching.

Why questions often lead to interpretations that may or may not be true, but more importantly, usually aren’t helpful.

Why questions can turn the client’s focus on the past, rather than the present and future, where the action really is.

One is taught to discourage Why questions.

That said, I’ve heard dramatic turning points in coaching sessions when coaches asked Why questions.  What’s important is what works for the client, if it works for the client it works for me. So if you feel compelled to ask Why, just ask Why.

Here are some Why questions you can ask:

Why does this matter to you?

Why is this important, right now?

Why does this mean so much?

Powerful Why questions uncover what the client most values.

Values are the Why.

Our most important personal values are the driving force behind everything we do. Values determine our behaviour more than anything else. More than demographics, education, strengths and needs. Values are what matter most. 

A good coach will try to use and then focus Why questions on values, not analysis, interpretation, or the past. 


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