Life coaching can be an incredible journey for any client— provided they are asked the right questions. A coach heading into a session with the wrong mindset is likely to be met with resistance, defensiveness, and a surface-level conversation that never addresses the root cause of the issues the client is struggling with.
Learning what life coaching questions to ask will help challenge beliefs, uncover masked emotions, and lead to the client understanding the hidden obstacles that are holding them back. Coaching is a task that requires genuine curiosity, passion, enthusiasm, and open-minded thinking.
Life coaching is an incredibly rewarding job when performed correctly, but it can be a frustrating task if you’re underprepared. The information in this article should start you on the road to many successful sessions with your future clients.
What Does a Life Coach Do?
The International Coaching Federation (ICF) defines coaching as: “Partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”
Life coaching should always be viewed as a partnership between coach and coachee. It’s an opportunity for a client to enter a safe space where they can share openly without interruption, express ideas, and voice their true feelings without judgement.
Any life coaching session should be focused on the present and the future, without delving too much into the past. A good coach will recognise when a coaching session is overly focused on past issues and will bring the attention back to the present moment in order to avoid ‘counselling’ the client.
It’s vital to note that a coach is not there to provide advice or mentoring, but to support clients in finding their own answers. The life coaching attitude puts the client in control of their own actions and leads with the belief that the coachee is the most intelligent person in their own life and is therefore the expert in this area.
What Topics Do Life Coaches Cover?
The topics covered by a life coach are dependent on the topics brought to the session by the coachee. The coach should not enter the conversation with any agenda or preconceived ideas around what areas should be addressed.
Life coaching should always be viewed as ‘client-focused.’ It’s the coach’s job to lead with curiosity and be open-minded towards what areas the client may want to address. The coachee should be totally in control of what areas they want to improve and which areas they are not wanting to change.
Only the client knows how ready they are to change certain aspects of their life. It’s not up to the coach to convince them to change areas they are not willing to discuss.
That being said, there are a few key topics that clients commonly bring to sessions. Each of these fall under the life coaching scope of practice:
- Creating and setting goals
- Working towards career aspirations
- Improving relationships
- Forming and maintaining habits
- Identifying and learning new skills
- Aligning behaviours with priorities
- Understanding core beliefs and values
- Improving decision-making capability
What Makes a Good Life Coaching Question?
Good life coaching questions should provoke thought and awareness beyond the client’s current way of thinking. They should be predominantly open-ended questions that are asked with genuine interest, curiosity, and lack of judgement.
Life coaching questions may also be used to challenge the client about discrepancies, misconceptions, and limiting beliefs that may alter their behaviour. Bravery should be used by the coach in order to push the coachee to move beyond old ways of thinking.
The timing of a question is also incredibly important. Sessions should be structured in a way that promotes goal setting, exploration, and determining future actions in an organic way.
A good life coaching question may also build self-efficacy in a client and foster a sense of power, imagination, and drive. The client should leave a session feeling a sense of clarity, having an understanding of the issue they brought to the session, and with a plan of how to proceed.
Good coaching questions should be:
- Mostly open-ended questions (often start with: what, why, how)
- Concise and to the point
- Easy to understand
- Demonstration that you have been actively listening (e.g. using mirroring language and summarizing)
10 Powerful Life Coaching Questions
1. How will you know you are successful in achieving your goal?
Most clients come to coaching with an idea of what they are trying to achieve, but they often lack an idea of exactly what a measure of success would be. Having the goal of ‘improving my relationship with my family’ is very subjective. In fact, many people may not know exactly what constitutes an ‘improved relationship.’
Challenging the client to understand exactly what success will look or feel like gives them clarity around what they are trying to achieve. It gives them a clear feeling or tangible outcome to aim for during the sessions and sets a sense of direction.
2. Why is this goal important to you?
Getting the client to think deeply about what makes the desired goal important gives them a sense of what they are looking for in life. It allows them to understand the genuine reasons why they are looking for success in this area and will often uncover some deep-rooted values.
3. How well does your current use of time align with your priorities?
Spending significant amounts of time on distracting habits is something that many people struggle with. It’s often a good idea to challenge a client to weigh up whether they are spending sufficient time on high-priority tasks.
Asking this question may also prompt the coachee to discover a better understanding of their own priorities. It can often spark them to complete a numbered list of priorities and compare this against their current use of time.
4. How do you see yourself?
Getting the client to look at themselves is a great way to build objectivity around ways of thinking. It’s easy for us to look outwards and make judgements towards others based on emotion, but it’s more challenging to look at ourselves in relation to a given situation.
Many people fabricate stories about how other people judge their personality, but rarely do people stop and assess how they perceive themselves. Just asking this simple question may allow the client to see any inconsistencies between thoughts and actions. It may open the door to real growth.
5. What is your moral compass telling you?
Making fast decisions based on emotions is human nature. Many clients come to sessions looking to progress in their life by making a series of challenging decisions that will ultimately determine their future path.
Partnering with clients through the decision-making process is a key aspect of life coaching, and getting them to understand whether a certain path aligns with their morals can be a useful exercise. Supporting the client in reaffirming what their values are can also aid in future decision-making situations.
6. On a scale of 1 to 10…
Scaling questions are a great way to gauge confidence levels about a range of topics. It will give the client a tangible figure that feels objective and free from the emotions that come with assessing a situation.
The answer to this question also provides a great opportunity for the coach to foster confidence or examine perceived shortcomings. If a client gives a 7 or higher, that often means they have a high enough level of confidence to take action.
Asking questions like: ‘What would turn that 7 into a 9?’ will help the client to engage their growth mindset and set realistic goals.
Another useful follow-up question might be: ‘Why did you say 7 instead of 1?’ which gives the client space to explain why they are confident. It’s a great way to build self-efficacy.
7. Would you mind if I shared an observation?
Coaching is more than just listening. Picking up on visual cues, state changes, and emotional reactions is a great way to get a better picture of the client’s true feelings about any given subject.
Making an astute observation is one thing, but learning how to share it with the client in a way that doesn’t cause them to feel self-conscious or defensive is another skill altogether. Asking for permission before sharing is a great way to get the client to let their guard down and be willing to consider what you have to say.
8. What if that isn’t true?
Starting a question with ‘what if’ is a great way to challenge beliefs. It’s common for people to paint a picture in their mind of how a situation might play out or believe they have a sense of how other people are thinking.
Using a ‘what if’ question can help the client to see the other side of the coin and question their preconceived ideas. It’s incredibly useful for breaking down the reasons behind behaviours towards others and can help to clarify thoughts and feelings about others.
9. What have you learned about yourself during this session?
Wrapping up by asking the client to reflect on what they have learned is a useful way to reaffirm the ideas discussed during the session. It will allow the client to look at the whole session and recite the key realizations that really stuck in their mind.
The key here is getting the client to reflect on the session and come to their own conclusions. Any summary of learning should come directly from the client, rather than the coach summarizing what they believe are the key points and takeaways.
Some may find that asking the client to write down key learnings, takeaways and realizations can be a great way to reaffirm newly found knowledge. However, it’s not a tactic that will land with every client, so situational awareness is essential.
10. How would you like to close the session?
Putting the ball in the client’s court to finish a session gives them a sense of importance and empowers them to be in control of their own journey. Life coaching should always be client-centered from start to finish, and allowing them to sign off with a few words of their own choosing amplifies their sense of self-confidence.
Asking the client how they would like to close also gives them a chance to share any closing thoughts they may have on their mind. It often leads to them sharing how much value they took from the session and may provide some feedback about the coach’s performance.
The best life coaches know how to ask open-ended questions that are led by curiosity, without preconceived judgements or agendas. It’s about holding a space for the client to share openly, while the coach actively listens with a genuine interest and curiosity for what is being said.
Heading into a session with a pre-planned list of questions in your head is not the best way to coach a client. However, having an idea of what constitutes a good question and having a strong knowledge of how to effectively challenge beliefs is fundamental.
Remember that life coaching should be a thought-provoking exploration for the client, not an opportunity for the coach to impose their ideas. Just trust your instincts, be open-minded and listen actively; the right questions will surely follow if you can just be your authentic self.
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James King is a Life Coach, Health Coach, and the proud owner of wellness website PlantFuelFocus. James has made it his life goal to educate and inspire others about how to overcome barriers, maximize potential, and show up as the best version of themselves.