When we’re coaching, we should find that the majority of our questions are Open, designed to trigger more conversation and to give the coachee the balance of time to share their meaning.
That means that we will prefer to use questions starting with words like What, When or How as these will tend to be answered with more than just a simple Yes or No response.
Why is also an Open question, but it comes with a warning label. If used incorrectly, it can sound as if the coach is accusing the coachee of something, or suggesting that their answers are not ideal.
“Why did you chose that option?” can be taken as an attack on the coachee, with an implicit assumption that the coach disapproves, or feels another choice would have been better. If this happens, then it can close down the coachee, and the coaching outcomes will be less successful.
We can mitigate this impact with careful use of tone and rapport, softening our approach to show a desire to understand rather than to judge. We can also choose to rephrase our questions, flipping a Why to a less strong term “What was your process when selecting that option?”.
If we want to shock the coachee into greater awareness or to cause some deeper reflection, then we can use a strong form of a Why question to trigger this thinking, but this should be approached with care.
So, with all this said, Why is a powerful tool in the toolbox of a coach. We shouldn’t be afraid to use it, but we should be considerate of the risks it may bring to the conversation and how it can alter the flow of a relationship with a coachee.