Transform Your Coaching Sessions with These 7 Key Questions

Running a successful coaching session doesn’t need to be a daunting, time-consuming endeavour. Michael Bungay Stanier, a leading expert in coaching and leadership, argues that the secret to impactful coaching lies in asking the right questions. This straightforward approach can enhance the effectiveness of your coaching sessions, benefiting both you and your mentees.

Embracing Simplicity in Coaching

Stanier, author of the best-selling book The Coaching Habit, insists that you don’t need extensive training or elaborate action plans to be a successful coach. Instead, it’s all about mastering the art of asking powerful, insightful questions. His philosophy is that effective coaching can occur in just five minutes if you focus on asking the right questions and listening intently.

“I didn’t write the book for coaches because they already love coaching. What I was trying to do was [write something] for all the people who are like, ‘My organisation is making me coach. I don’t really want to do it, but I have to. Where do I start?’” Stanier explains.

7 Crucial Questions for Effective Coaching

Stanier has distilled the essence of productive coaching into seven key questions that structure a session and foster meaningful dialogue. These questions help uncover deeper issues and promote a thoughtful conversation:

What’s on your mind?

And what else?

What’s the real challenge here for you?

What do you need?

How can I help?

If you’re saying yes to this, what are you saying no to?

What was most useful for you?


Delving into the Questions

1. What’s on your mind?
This initial question opens up the conversation, allowing the coachee to discuss what’s most pressing for them. It sets the stage for the discussion and shows that you’re interested in their current concerns.

2. And what else?
This follow-up encourages the coachee to dig deeper and explore other facets of their issue. It ensures that all relevant topics are brought to light.

3. What’s the real challenge here for you?
Stanier notes that the first issue mentioned is rarely the core problem. This question helps reveal the true challenge, prompting the coachee to reflect on their real concerns.

4. What do you need?
This shifts the focus to potential solutions and support. It helps the coachee articulate their needs and can lead to actionable steps.

5. How can I help?
Offering assistance this way shows you’re ready to support, but it also makes the coachee think critically about the kind of help they need.

6. If you’re saying yes to this, what are you saying no to?
This highlights the importance of prioritisation and the trade-offs involved in any decision. It encourages the coachee to consider the broader implications of their choices.

7. What was most useful for you?
Ending the session with this question helps the coachee reflect on the value of the conversation and provides feedback on what aspects were most effective.

The Importance of Deep Listening

One common challenge for managers is the impulse to give advice too quickly. Stanier stresses the importance of deep listening and resisting the urge to solve problems immediately. This allows the coachee to fully express their issues and explore their solutions, which is often more empowering and effective.

“We’re all so wired to get on with stuff. Our advice monster shows up and we start trying to solve the first thing that has come up,” says Stanier. “But the first thing that shows up is never the real challenge. It’s just the first challenge.”

By asking the right questions and listening more than you speak, you create a safe space for the coachee to open up and discuss the real issues. This approach not only leads to better problem-solving but also strengthens the relationship between coach and coachee.

Coaching the Coaches

For HR professionals, Stanier’s approach offers a valuable framework for teaching managers to become more effective coaches. Often, HR’s role includes training leaders to adopt a coaching mindset and develop their own coaching skills. This involves encouraging managers to ask insightful questions and listen deeply, rather than jumping to solutions.

Stanier advises a subtle approach when dealing with leaders who might be resistant to coaching. Instead of making a formal announcement about coaching, he suggests integrating coaching questions into everyday conversations. This method helps to reduce resistance and makes the process feel more natural and less intimidating.

The Strategic Value of Coaching
Effective coaching extends beyond individual development and has strategic implications for the entire organisation. By uncovering and addressing the real challenges employees face, HR professionals and managers can drive meaningful change and improve overall performance.

“And you have far more impact because you’re willing to say, ‘My job is to figure out what the real challenges are.’ That is a strategic act,” says Stanier.


Coaching doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming to be effective. By incorporating these seven simple questions into your coaching sessions, you can create a more impactful and efficient process. Whether you’re an HR professional, a manager, or a leader, mastering the art of asking better questions can transform your coaching approach and, ultimately, your organisation.

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