Simple, Curious Questions: #3 of the Five Best Life Coaching Skills

September 10, 2015 by John Andrew Williams

The 3rd of 5 Life Coaching Skills that Will Change Your Life

This is part three of the five part series of my favorite life coaching concepts of all time. Academic Life Coaching is my passion, and at the core of the ALC 1.0 training program is the Essential Coach Training.

Here is a quick review of the five skills we are covering in this mini series:

#1: Levels of Listening

#2: Coach the Client, Not the Problem (A coach’s mindset)

#3: Simple, Curious Questions

#4: Levels of Motivation

#5: Well-Designed Actions

#3 Simple, Curious Questions (Powerful Questions)

I use powerful questions and simple curious questions interchangeably. I think both are fantastic terms to be used for the kinds of questions that are most effective in moving your coaching client forward.

What are simple, curious questions (powerful questions)?

Powerful questions are the tools that coaches use to point clients towards areas of their lives which they have not yet explored. The right question asks your client to consider something she or he has never considered, yet once brought to consciousness helps clarify and shed light onto characteristics, skills, or values that your client holds dear.

Characteristics of Simple, Curious Questions

  1. Powerful questions are questions that you use as a coach that are curious about your client, for your client’s sake. In other words you are listening in level two, and you find yourself curious for your client’s sake with something that you think your client may or may not have already considered. Then ask a question based on your curiosity and what will help your client to gain a deeper understanding.
  2. A simple, curious question starts with a question word. Question words are what, why, how, what if, when, and where. When you start to question with anyone of these, the question must be open-ended. The importance of open questions is to allow your client to explore, and it gives them space to go whenever they most need to go. When you ask a closed-ended question, you are limiting the options that your client has to explore. In polite, adult conversation people often take closed-ended questions as invitations to continue to explore. However, if you are working with teens and students, many times teenagers take advantage of the closed-ended question and only answer yes, no or I don’t know. Open-ended questions are the key.
  3. Simple, curious questions are most powerful when short. Short and sweet. When questions become too long, clients do not feel the need to talk as much. You want your client talking for 90% of life coaching session, and asking short, concise questions is the way to get that to happen.
  4. Silence. I normally don’t add this as a characteristic but I am adding silence as a characteristic for powerful questions simply because I want to emphasize it. It is something very valuable. Time to think is precious, and the rarity of it makes it very valuable in a coaching session. Just the simple act of waiting in silence for your client to speak, without judgement, provides tremendous value and a unique experience. It also opens up the floor for your client to add more to the conversation and delve deeper into their own learning. As they spend the silent time reflecting, new learning may occur. Silence is golden.

Those are the four characteristics of simple, curious questions that make them so powerful. As you work through sessions with your client, see how these four characteristics come into play.

Next up, we will look at the levels of motivation that impact all of us. My hope one day is that every teacher has a life coach training foundation as part of her or his teacher training, and that students starting ninth grade experience the power and value of positive psychology and life coaching concepts.

Thank you so much for being a part of the larger Academic Life Coaching community.

Also read: Levels of Motivation: #4 of the Five Best Life Coaching Skills

Let's stay connected

ALC Logo


To provide life coach training that changes lives, launches careers, and promotes human flourishing.

Connect with us

Facebook linkInstagram linkTwitter linkYoutube linkPinterest LinkLinkedin link
PO Box 2021
Hood River, Oregon 97031

This website is powered by

CTEDU logoACTP logo