Open Up Possibilities With Questions


I recently facilitated a 2-hour coaching training meeting with a group of nine CEO’s hosted by a fellow coach and colleague at an all-day meeting. The host told me that CEO’s would really like to learn how to coach rather than my prepared topic of “How to create a coaching culture”. So I quickly prepared a hand full of slides and used a couple of exercises that I have used in the past in my Coach Right Now! workshops.

I like to get my audience into an exercise early to grab their interest by doing something. The exercise was to have them coach a colleague by only using open-ended questions: not closed-ended, not leading and not “multiple choice questions, just open-ended. I organized them in pairs, someone described a scenario and the partner coached that partner. Then, they switched after 5 minutes. I moved quickly from pair to pair listening to their struggles and challenges.


The exercise debrief sounded like this. “This is hard to do! I thought this would be easy. Wow! What a struggle to not ask yes-or-no questions! I got more information from the open questions than I ever thought I would. I found out some surprising dilemmas with my colleague. I was just trying to think about my next question. This was a enlightening exercise.”

Open-ended questions get us more information: but also generates critical thinking and valuable dialogue. The May 2015 issue of “Fast Company” featured a famous leader who reinforces the beneficial outcomes of frequent use of questions.

“Asking questions [open-ended] creates the space for people to raise issues they are worried about that a boss, or colleague, may not know about. Asking questions lets people tell a different story than the one you’re expecting. Most important from my perspective, asking questions means people have to make their case for the way they want a decision to go.”*



This leader also helps us understand how important it is to ask open-ended questions when he states:

“Making the case means answering the big questions: Why this project? Why now? Why this product? Why this investment? What is the story? What are you focused on? Why are you focused on that? What are you worried about?…None of these questions are yes-or-no questions. They are open-ended. They are questions where the answer can itself be a story, sometimes shot, sometimes longer.”*

*The leader I quoted above is Brian Grazer, one of the most successful movie producers ever. His new book explains why the right query is the key to success. Mr. Grazer’s book is A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life co-authored with Charles Fishman. Simon and Schuster Inc. 2015

Using open-ended questions is the most essential method of eliciting inner thoughts, problem solving and creative thinking of others, not only for coaching, but also for any great leader.