Using Probing Questions to Clarify Your Clients' Cloudy Thinking

As a professional life or business coach, it is often up to you to help your clients clear up some foggy thinking about their goals and aspirations. In this endeavor, probing questions are akin to a surgeons scalpel when it comes to cutting through the fluff and getting down to what matters most for your clients. Let’s take a brief look at the basic nature of probing questions, as well as a few examples of the types of probing questions that most coaches use in their coaching practice.

Probing questions are designed to dig below the surface of a particular issue to gather as many relevant facts as possible. Used by professionals ranging from physicians to law enforcements, these types of questions often require clients to dig below the surface of a particular topic that they may have been avoiding on their own.

Some experienced coaches know how to use a combination of pervasiveness and tact to lead their clients toward confronting issues that are often awkward or challenging. Below are three examples of probing questions that progressively probe deeper into the specific details concerning current obstacles that are holding a client back from making progress toward a particular goal.

  • Thinking back on a time when you were making more progress toward your goal than you now are, what was  different that allowed you to be more focused/productive?
  • What would it take to change your present circumstances so that you could regain that momentum?
  • Can you be more specific?

As a coach and client work through each of these progressively detailed coaching questions, a growing amount of concrete, quantifiable information will make its way to the surface, as well as useful insights about where the client is in terms of emotional commitment, confidence and other important areas. As always, the coach is not using probing questions to lead the client toward a particular conclusion or decision.  Instead, these questions serve to simply clarify the client’s own perspective, present situations and options for overcoming existing obstacles while working toward meeting short term and long term goals.

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