Asking good questions is a valuable skill. You can use it to do really effective self-research, as well as to study the thinking of others. We present a chapter from Olga Rybina and Yuri Muradyan’s book “Do Like a Coach” (“Five Prisms”). In it, the authors share the rules for formulating coaching questions that will be useful to everyone, not just specialists, as it may seem at first glance.

Imagine that the client’s head is a ball of thread that a kitten has played with. It is the coachee’s job to support the client’s intention to untangle the ball of thread.

The coachee’s questions help the client to understand what he or she is feeling at the moment, what he or she really wants and how to achieve it.


1. Simple, specific, easy to understand

Long questions are difficult to understand; it is better to break them down into short questions and ask them one at a time. Otherwise, the client’s brain will choose a “convenient” question that is in their comfort zone.

What would be the best solution for you in this situation?
What qualities are important for you to acquire to arrive at this goal?
From what role do you want to achieve this outcome?
How will you be able to support yourself along the way to achieve the goal?

2. Questions asked with a specific purpose

The main purpose of questions is to move the client towards the intended outcome. Questions should expand the client’s awareness of their needs, their true motivations for behaviour, their habitual ways of responding, i.e. they should work towards the client’s goal, to expand their potential, not to satisfy the coachee’s curiosity. Do not use “Why?” questions frequently. They can be perceived as judgemental and provoke the client to make excuses or defend themselves.

3. Open-ended

These cannot be answered with a one-word or yes/no answer. Coaches use such questions to look as deeply into the client’s thinking and learn as much as possible. They involve multiple answers.

Answering open-ended questions gives the coach insight into what the client is really thinking or feeling.


Closed questions are those that can be answered “yes” or “no”, give a specific answer or choose the correct one from the given options. They are indispensable in test tasks because they are easy to analyse and evaluate.

– Do you like your job? – Yes.

Coaching is not a system of knowledge testing, so a coach rarely uses closed questions. They are needed to solidify commitments (“Are you ready for today’s session?”) or to get clarifying information (“Did I understand you correctly?”).

Open-ended questions always begin with the question words “what”, “when”, “how”, “why” and assume a detailed answer. Their main difference is that there are no correct or ready answers. They force the interlocutor to reflect, refer to his or her experience, express his or her feelings and emotions: this is the main source of information for the coach.

– What do you like about your work? – I feel professional and I see that this quality is appreciated by my colleagues. I feel fulfilled.

The authors of The Art of Asking Good Questions as a Catalyst for Insights, Innovation, and Action, Eric Vogt, Juanita Brown, and Isaac Davis asked people from different countries to rate the following questions on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest rating.

Almost all respondents recognised that the first two questions (closed questions) were the least strong, and gave the last two (open questions) ten points each. This allowed the authors to conclude that “good questions are those that push boundaries”.

By answering open-ended questions, i.e. reflecting, a person becomes aware of their feelings. For example, a client says, “I’m in a bad mood.” This can mean anything: “I’m disappointed”, “I’m angry”, “I’m hurt”, “I’m not satisfied with my financial situation”. And so on ad infinitum.

The moment he starts to reason out what is really behind the bad mood, his brain switches on the departments responsible for analysing. This allows him to look at himself from the outside and understand where he is now. And coaching questions such as “What do you want?” unfold the person’s attention to their desires and lead to the idea that it could be different.

– I don’t know. – Sit down, two!

You’d get an F for that answer in school. And how should a coach perceive such an answer? First of all, you have to find out what it is based on. There can be many reasons, here are just a few of them:

In answering the questions, the client has come up with thoughts he or she never thought of. In either case, the answer “I don’t know” should be associated with a siren wailing in the coachee’s ear about an opportunity not to be missed, because exploring such areas can lead to amazing results in the client’s realisation of his or her true goals and desires.

Open questions on the “T” model

The “T” model was developed by Miles Downey, a leading business coach in Europe and founder of the London School of Coaching. He proposed an algorithm for using open-ended questions consisting of two steps:

1. Expansion

Exploring all possibilities with the following questions:

2. Focus

Choose the most appropriate option to achieve the goal using the following questions:

This model is similar to buying a coffee machine. First we do market research to understand which ones even exist. Then we decide what suits us best in terms of size, function and other parameters.

Open questions on the GROW model

Let’s return in more detail to the GROW (Goal, Reality, Options, Will) model, which we have already mentioned in the chapter “Recognise”. Its author, John Whitmore, developed an algorithm on the path to mindfulness that consists of four steps:

With her help, John Whitmore proposes to go on a real journey to discovering your true feelings and desires.


The skill of asking good questions comes with practice. The most famous coaches started by working as their inner coaches when they didn’t have clients yet. Try it out for yourself too by completing the following assignment.

Choose an enquiry that you could approach a coach with. What open-ended questions could you ask at each stage in the GROW model?