7 Questions to build The Coaching Habit

These years I discovered how helpful is to ask the right question when I am engaged in a conversation or meeting with my team or with one of my coworkers. I understood that by asking relevant questions I help my team members to find their own solutions that fit better their needs and for sure by doing so they are more committed and involved to implement them.

I read and enjoyed very much the idea of “manager as a teacher” and then this concept connected in my mind with the very powerful skill of asking good questions that will empower and help my team members to be successful.

I talked about this topic in an 1:1 with an Agile Coach and he recommended me this book: “The Coaching Habit” by Michael Bungay Stanier, and yes, for sure, this book is an amazing source of knowledge and inspiration about how to improve your skill of asking questions and making it a habit, the coaching habit. It was an incredible gift for me. 🎁 And this article is a summary of that book.

You need a coaching habit

Daniel Goleman in his article “Leadership that gets results” from HBR, mentioned that based on the research there are 6 essentials leadership styles, and the coaching was one of them:

  • Coercive leaders demand immediate compliance
  • Authoritative leaders mobilize people toward a vision
  • Affiliative leaders create emotional bonds and harmony
  • Democratic leaders build consensus through participation
  • Pacesetting leaders expect excellence and self-direction
  • Coaching leaders develop people for the future

Coaching is about helping others to unlock theirs potential, but by practicing coaching it helps you to work less hard and have more impact.

Coaching can break out 3 vicious circles that affects our workplaces:

  • creating overdependece
    • building a coaching habit will help your team to be become more self-sufficient by increasing their ability to learn how to solve the problems and organise their work so you, as a leader, will stop being a bottleneck
  • getting overwhelemed
    • building a coaching habit will help you to focus on the things that matters
  • becoming disconnected
    • building a coaching habit will help you to connect with your team member and to set them up for success

How to build a habit

To build an effective new habit it involves to have 5 components:

  • a reason
  • a trigger
  • a micro-habit
  • effective practice
  • plan

The New Habit Formula = Identifying the trigger + Identifying the old habit + Defining the new behaviour


❓Question Masterclass Part 1

📺 How to ask a great question

Ask one question at a time. Just one question at a time.

1️⃣ The Kickstart Question – What’s on your mind?

The meaning of this question is actually “Let’s talk about the thing that matters most”.

After this question was addressed you can use a framework, recommended by the author, called 3P model for choosing what to focus on in a coaching conversation:

  • projects
  • people
  • patterns

💡 The science behind this question

One of the fundamentals truths from neuroscience is that we are what we give our attention. When we have something on our mind, that thing consumes our energy and focus.

❓Question Masterclass Part 2

Cut the intro and ask the question. If you know what question to ask, get to the point and ask it.

And if sometimes it sounds complicated to go directly with a question you could add lean-in phrases like: “out from curiosity“.

2️⃣ The AWE Question – And What Else?

And what else?” is the quickest and easiest way to uncover and create new possibilities.

Four practical tips for asking “and what else?”

  1. stay curious, stay genuine: ask the question with genuine interest and curiosity
  2. ask it one more time: ask it at least three times, and rarely more than five
  3. recognise success: when the coachee says “There is nothing else” it means you have reached your objective with this question
  4. move on when it’s time: if the focus start to be in a different area than required try to wrap it up and ask “Is there anything else?

💡 The science behind this question

  • Decisions made from binary choices had a failure rate greater than 50% and having at least one more option lowered the failure rate bu almost half, down to about 30%. When you ask “And what else?” you help the other person to generate multiple options that could drive to better decisions
  • Having lots and lots of options could be also challenging and it looks that four is actually the ideal number at which we can process information. Actually our brain counts like this: one, two, three, four…lots.
  • Follow-up questions that promote higher-level thinking, like the AWE question, help deepen understanding and promote involvement.

📺 Get Strategic: The One Question That Rules Them All

❓Question Masterclass Part 3

Should you ask rhetorical questions? Stop offering up advice with a question mark at the end.

The author encourages us to be careful with the “Advice Monster” and start listening to understand better and ask the right questions to help the coachee to find his/her own answers and solutions that fit better his/her expectations.

3️⃣ The Focus Question – What’s the real challenge here for you?

When you start jumping in to fix things, things go off the rails in three ways: you work on the wrong problem; you do the work your team should be doing; and the work doesn’t get done.

This 3rd question will help to focus on the real problem, not the first problem. It is also useful to use this question and redirect the discussion to what the person in front of you can control or influence.

Three strategies to make this question work for you

  1. trust that you are being useful: create a learning moment for you and the person you are coaching.
  2. remember that there is place for your advice: for business as usual activities it’s ok to give advice or offer answers, it is not the case to ask questions and build coaching conversations for solving small tasks.
  3. remember the second question: adding “What else is a real challenge here for you?” is helpful to offer a better understanding on the current context.

📺 How to Help Your Team Find Focus

💡 The science behind this question

  • the magic of the question is given by the last 2 words “for you“: when the “you” word is present in the questions the research shows that questions needed to be repeated fewer times, and they were solved faster and with more accuracy.

❓Question Masterclass Part 4

Stick to questions starting with “what” and avoid questions starting with “why”. If you are not trying to fix things, you don’t need the backstory.

These 3 first questions could be combined to create a robust script for your coaching conversation:

Q: What’s on your mind?

A: 💬

Q: Is there anything else on your mind?

A: 💬

Q: So what’s the real challenge here for you?

A: 💬

Q: And what else is the real challenge here for you?

A: 💬

Q: Is there anything else?”

A: 💬

4️⃣ The Foundation Question – What do you want?

It takes courage to ask for what you want, knowing that the answer may be No.

The illusion that both parties to the conversation know what the other party wants is pervasive, and it sets the stage for plenty of frustrating exchanges.

Based on the economist Manfred Max-Neef there are nine self-explanatory universal needs:

  • affection
  • creation
  • recreation
  • freedom
  • identity
  • understanding

So next time when you ask someone “What do you want?” listen better to see if you could match the answer with one of the 9 universal needs.

Five times a second, your brain is scanning the environment and asking itself: “Is it safe here? Or is it dangerous?” We are biased to assume that situations are dangerous rather than not.

There are four primary drivers that influence how the brain reads any situation, TERA, so they could help to focus on how can you influence the environment that drives engagement:

  • T is for Tribe: “Are you with me, or are you against me?
  • E is for Expectation: “Do I know the future or don’t I?
  • R is for Rank: “Are you more important or less important than I am?
  • A is for Autonomy: “Do I get a say or don’t I?

💡 The science behind this question

  • This question helps people to think about what better really looks like and it also start with the end in mind.

❓Question Masterclass Part 5

Get comfortable with Silence. Silence is often a measure of success. Take a breath, stay open and keep quiet.

5️⃣ The Lazy Question – How can I help?

The power of this question covers two different areas:

  • you are forcing the coachee to make a direct and clear request
  • it stops you to think that you already know how to help and what solution to apply

Now that the question was answered by your coachee, you as a leader have some options to answer:

  1. Yes
  2. No, I can’t do that” is another option. Having the courage to say No is one of the ways you stop being so “helpful”.
  3. I can’t do that… but I could do [insert your counter-offer]” is a nice middle ground. Don’t just give them a No; give them some other choices.
  4. Let me think about that”.
  5. I’m not sure—I’ll need to check a few things out”.

The Karpman Drama Triangle

  • Victim: “My life is so hard; my life is so unfair. ‘Poor me.’
  • Persecutor: “I’m surrounded by fools, idiots or just people less good than me.
  • Rescuer: “Don’t fight, don’t worry, let me jump in and take it on and fix it.

These three labels describe how we are behaving in a given situation and we tend to have a favourite role that we use by default most of the time.

💡 The science behind this question

  • when you ask this question you are not only more effective, but you are also more respected

❓Question Masterclass Part 6

Actually listen to the answer. And when I get distracted (which I will), I will come back and start listening again.

6️⃣ The Strategic Question: If you are saying YES to this, what are you saying NO to?

In which you get to the heart of overwhelm and discover the question at the heart of every good strategy. A YES is nothing without the NO that gives it boundaries and form.

This question is helpful to prioritize the work and make sure you spend your time on the things that bring the most value and based on the 3P model we should choose between Projects, People or Patterns:


  • What projects do you need to abandon or postpone?
  • What meetings will you no longer attend?
  • What resources do you need to divert to the Yes?


  • What expectations do you need to manage?
  • From what Drama Triangle dynamics will you extract yourself?
  • What relationships will you let wither?


  • What habits do you need to break?
  • What old stories or dated ambitions do you need to update?
  • What beliefs about yourself do you need to let go of?

Saying YES more slowly means being willing to stay curious before committing.

This involves asking more questions to understand:

  • Why are you asking me?
  • Whom else have you asked?
  • When you say this is urgent, what do you mean?
  • According to what standard does this need to be completed? By when?
  • If I could not do all of this, but could do just a part, what part would you have me do?
  • What do you want me to take off my plate so I can do this?

Five Strategy Questions from Roger Martin

  1. What is our winning aspiration?
  2. What impact do you want to have in and on the world?
  3. Where will we play?
  4. How will we win?
  5. What management systems are required?

💡 The science behind this question

❓Question Masterclass Part 7

Acknowledge the answers you get. This is not about judging people; it is about encouraging them.

7️⃣ The Learning Question: What was most useful for you?

You discover how to finish any conversation in a way that will make you look like a genius. Your job is to create the space for those learning moments.

The people start learning, start creating new neural pathways, only when they have a chance to recall and reflect on what just happened.

John Davis from the NeuroLeadership have created the AGES model to explain the four main neurological drivers of longer-term memory, and AGES stands for Attention, Generation, Emotion and Spacing.

By addressing the learning question it assumes the conversation was useful, it asks people to identify the big thing that was most useful, it makes it personal (“for you”), if gives you feedback and it reminds people how useful you are to them.

💡 The science behind this question

  • by finishing the conversation with this question you help people to see and then embed the learning from the conversation and also you offer a positive attitude, and people tend to remember the experience and how they felt.

❓Question Masterclass Part 8

Use every channel to ask a question. Questions work just as well typed as they do spoken.

📚 Learn more

#TameYourAdviceMonster #TheCoachingHabit

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s