By Jennifer Turvey,

Guide the Conversation

Questions help the coach guide a conversation with a problem-solver.

Open (probing) questions are used at the opening of a coaching engagement, when information needs to be gathered.

There are several different types of questions and situations for asking. To select a question on the fly, it’s helpful to ask yourself which type of question the situation requires.

Guide the Conversation

A Valuable Resource

A Valuable Resource

Questions are a valuable resource in guiding conversations.

The coach selects them to help the problem-solver navigate the shallows and the depths, move forward in their exploration of their topic, steer away from stagnation or going rogue, or locate gold.

Questions come in shapes, sizes, and structures. They’re used to clarify, challenge, redirect and probe.

One way to make selecting questions easier is to organize them by purpose and type of situation. For example, if you’re starting a new coaching conversation and need to gather information, select an open question.

The Open Question

The open question is useful for gathering information, especially at the start of a new problem or topic. Open questions are also known as “broad” or “probing” questions.

Open questions invite a range of possible answers and thinking. You’ll reach for open questions at the beginning of a coaching conversation when you’re gathering information. They help to explore the issue or situation, and they provide an opportunity for the problem-solver to think more deeply about it.

To understand the power of the open question, compare the options for the following:

  • “What did Jack say?”
  • “How did Jack respond?”

While the first limits answers to spoken words, the second leaves all kinds of possibilities for the answer. “He said no”. “He shrugged”. “He punched the wall”. “He sent a snarky email to my boss”. Or maybe, he did all four!

Here are some sample open questions to experiment with:

  • What else is important in this discussion?
  • How do you know?
  • What is happening?
  • Can you give me some background?
  • How are they involved?
  • What is challenging about it?
  • What have you done, tried, or considered?
  • What is the impact on you and your team?

It kind of goes without saying that a question which invites a yes or no answer is pretty much the opposite of the open question.

The Open Question

Short Open Questions

Short Open Questions

If you’re on the spot, hunting for an open question, try a short one like:

  • What else?
  • Can you say more about that?

Not only are these easy to remember. They let the problem-solver fill in the information, allowing for more possibilities.

Having a short, open question close at hand can get the info you want and help you out of a bind.

Working the Angles

When coming up open questions at the beginning of a coaching conversation, don’t forget to include dimensions and perspectives such as time, viewpoint, and emotion.

Below are some questions which engage these factors.

Angle Example
Past What led up to this?
Future What do expect will result?
Emotions How do you feel about that?
Viewpoints How do you think the supervisor sees this?
Facts Can you walk me through from the beginning?
Values What values might apply to the situation?
Root Cause What’s really going on here?
Assumptions What is the basis for that?
Working the Angles

Organizing Your Questions

Organizing Your Questions

The open question is useful for gathering information and helping the problem-solver think more deeply. But there are other types of questions and situations for asking. So how do you get organized?

One way is to keep a never-ending list of questions, which is a good idea, especially when starting out in coaching. But keeping a laptop open or a sheaf of papers handy and stopping the conversation each time you need another question is a nonstarter.

An alternative is to be strategic. That is, to select the question that fits the situation. To do that, organize questions by type and by situations where they’re useful. You can still create something on paper, but it’s likely to be far less complex and detailed. And it might even be a flowchart or a map.

A couple of tips to keep in your back pocket for when you find yourself needing time to think about the next question:

  • Use one of the short open questions described above, “What else?”
  • Take a moment to get your thoughts together.

The good news is that, like any other skill, asking skills come naturally with practice.


Questions are useful in guiding conversations.

Open questions are used to gather information and help the problem-solver think deeply about a new issue or problem.

In organizing questions, lists of questions are useful for reference. To efficiently select questions, it’s helpful to think strategically. Which types of questions fit this situation?

Asking Open Questions
Jenn Turvey

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