Coaching Principle 14

By Dr Peter Chee and Dr Jack Canfield

Asking powerful questions to unleash the creative potential of the person you coach is more of an art than a science.

The technique comes from knowing the right direction to take them (where), having the right intentions (why), using the right questions (what) and (which), asking them in the right way (how), asking them about the right person (who), and asking at the right time (when). This is the six ‘Ws’ and one ‘H’ formula of inquiry. Keeping this in mind will be useful in forming question that you need to ask during a coaching conversation.

Let’s start with the “WHERE”. This is a pertinent question to ask because you and your coachee need to where the conversation has moved. For example, by the conclusion of each coaching conversation, you and the client should agree on action steps.

In the next session, get a fix on the status of action steps to determine what the coachee has accomplished before working on the next steps to take. If you do not check on progress of what has been committed earlier, the continuity can be affected.

WHY questions are used to determined if the coachee is sufficiently motivated to take action. Use the “why” to discover what is compelling them towards the objectives or goals they have identified. Ensure the person you coach possess the right intentions by using questions themed around answering the “why”.

Also, keep in mind that starting a question with a why may sound confrontational. Instead, tap on the power of “why” by starting the question with what. For example, “What makes you so excited and energized about achieving this goal? or “What is giving you this immense motivation to take action?”.

A HOW question drives the coachee to think about the things they can be doing to resolve or address the issue they are facing. When asking this question, you maintain a facial expression and tone of voice that reflect neutrality but with a curious, caring heart. For example, “How can you accelerated progress so you can reach your goal faster?”

There are two sides to the WHO question. The first side is the coach, who needs to confirm that the question is being directed to the correct person. Another way to think about this is that you need to know what your coachee wants to achieve when coaching him or her. If you do not, you may be in a position of not really knowing who you are coaching.

The other side of the who question can be used to trigger thinking of who can help your coachee achieve their aims. For example, “Who is the person you need to influence to get the promotion you want?”. This gets them thinking of who they need to have a better relationship with in their work.

Just like the “who” questions, “WHEN” questions have two aspects. On the part of the coach, you need to ascertain if it is a good time to move forward with the coaching. You should only ask questions when the person is ready for more introspection, and not when they are angry and need to vent their frustrations.

On the other hand, “when” questions can be used to gain a fixed commitment of time from the coachee. You can also use when for asking about updates. For example, “Would now be a good time to update on your accomplishments so far?” or “When do you think is a good time for you to reach this milestone we identified just now?”

Questions involving the “WHAT” are the bread-and-butter of coaching. These questions are like the swiss-army knife during a coaching conversation as they can be used to discover and identify issues. To use the “what” effectively, utilize open-ended questions to encourage people to share their ideas and solutions. When you focus on open-ended questions and broader questions, you stimulate “out of the box” thinking and widen people’s horizons.

Close-ended questions which restrict conversations should be used near the end of the conversation. After spending a lot of the time on coming up with ideas, you and your coachee need to narrow down the options to arrive at decisions. In this instance, you switch from open-ended questions to close-ended questions to help them reach a decision.

The right questions evoke self-discovery and awareness that energize change.

– Jack Canfield and Peter Chee

Powerful Questions Release Solutions
Powerful Questions Release Solutions

Powerful questions can stimulate deep reflection in search of answers, reflection that goes
beyond the time boundary of a single coaching session. People will answer the questions that
you ask during the coaching dialogue, but after the session is completed, they may talk to
others, take action, and reflect about what was asked and discussed in the session. Though
some valuable insights will surface during the coaching session, there may be other
important discoveries made before and after each subsequent session. A good practice to
facilitate deeper learning is to offer some action steps that involve powerful inquiry questions
that the client can work on after the session. You can then explore the answers to those
questions during your next session.

Powerful questions have the potential to change lives. They can evoke innovative solutions
and self-discovery, inspire us to believe in ourselves, change our mindset, and drive us to take
action. Asking questions is one of the most important skills of a coach, so great coaches need
to be able to ask great questions. When you master asking powerful questions, you will
become a highly valued asset to the people you coach.

A plan in the heart of a man is like deep water, but a man of understanding draws it out.

– King Solomon


  1. Great questions usually begin with WHAT – What is keeping you awake at night? What is the outcome you want? What are your solutions?
  2. Move to HOW to discover more – How would you achieve your goals? How would you realize your vision?
  3. Focus to narrow down with WHICH – Which solution you think works best? Which area are you going to focus on?
  4. Use WHO for pinpointing responsibilities – Who oversees this solution? Who can you influence to get the support you need?
  5. Change to WHERE for areas or locations – Where are the areas you are strong in? Where are your target markets?
  6. Switch to WHEN for timelines – When will you implement your plan? When do you think you can accomplish this project? When would you do it?
  7. Get to the heart of the matter with WHY – Why do you think that project was successful? Why are our customers not buying into this solution?




World #1 Strategic Innovation Coach and World #3 Coaching Guru Dr Peter Chee

Coaching for Breakthrough Success combines time-tested principles of exemplary coaches with the latest disruptive techniques used by the world’s top performing leaders, this step-by-step playbook shows you how to nurture—in yourself and others—the three essential requirements of coaching excellence