As a school leader, being able to ask appropriate questions is an essential skill. It cuts across all job functions and roles; it is one of the most important skills to master, as it allows us to elicit the information we want with the minimum of effort.
Coaching as a style of leadership is characterised by asking questions. With those questions you move away from command-and-control leadership to a dynamic style that enables growth through self-reflection.
I keep six honest serving men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.
Kipling’s poem is a nice reminder that questioning – both questioning yourself and questioning others – is the basis for learning. However, it is the type of questions that is important when it comes to coaching.
Asking the right questions means the difference between a one-way conversation and a productive learning session. Good coaching questions give people the space in which to step back and examine themselves. The right question can enable people to see things from a different perspective or look for a new solution to an old problem. People begin to learn to question themselves so that they can change future actions.
Open questions 'open up' the areas you are interested in finding out about and allow a range of potential replies.
These can be useful to begin with; they put the person you are speaking to at ease because they are not too difficult to answer and they enable areas to be identified which may be investigated further at a later stage in the discussion.
These can be phrased as statements, and enable you to focus on particular areas that you require information on. They help you to obtain specific detailed information and are often used to follow up after open questions.
Repetition of statements
These are not really questions, however, repetition can be used to encourage the person to open up. A questioning tone of voice or backing up a statement with a question can gather more information.
This technique is useful for obtaining explanations for attitudes and opinions, or gaining a deeper understanding when the situation is becoming emotionally charged. To be effective listen carefully, interpret accurately and respond accordingly.
Closed questions encourage a reply towards a defined area and can elicit a one or two word answer. Closed questions are useful for checking and confirming facts, for regaining control of the discussion and use when someone will not stop talking.
The 'broken record' technique
Repeating statements can be a good way of asking a question or making a point if you feel that someone hasn't heard or taken in what you have said. State the point as many times as necessary in a calm and direct manner.
Summaries concentrate on factual response. They can also be backed up with a further question:
Summary questions can be used to review, to summarise, to check understanding of the facts, or to clarify the thoughts of the person you are speaking to.
The importance of asking the right questions can be illustrated by considering those times when we can confuse situations by asking the wrong questions:
Sometimes people will give the answers that they think you want to hear, rather than the answers they would give if they had not been influenced in any way.
For a truthful answer, reframe leading questions:
Multiple questions are questions that contain more than one question:
Multiple questions can confuse the person to whom you have asked the question. People tend not to answer all parts, but usually answer the first or last part and forget the others.
The best way to overcome this is not to ask multiple questions; ask each question separately, get an answer, and then pose the next question. Start with an open question and finish with a closed.
Asking the right questions at the right time is key to developing relationships in an improving school. Great questions stretch the coach and coachee beyond a result-driven, superficial or firefighting conversation.
If you are looking to have richer, more engaging conversations with better outcomes, consider our coaching course.
Published on 21 July 2017