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The Killer Coaching Mistake


When I have the opportunity to provide feedback to another coach, I almost always notice their sincerity and enthusiasm. While a coach’s attitude is of paramount importance, coaching requires the consistent application of skills in order to be effective. Over the years, I have observed 1 mistake in particular that almost all coaches make at one time or another. Just because the mistake is relatively common, doesn’t mean it is easy to correct. Admittedly, I have been guilty of making this mistake myself. The first step in correcting this faux pas is becoming aware of it, so here goes….

Speaking Instead Of Listening

Without a doubt, talking too much and listening too little, is a very common coaching mistake. A coach that talks too much may feel like they are educating a client, when in fact the client should be finding answers for themselves. The biggest culprit that initiates too much coach “speak”, is when the coach asks a succession of “closed” questions. Closed questions usually only require brief answers, or “yes” or “no” responses. An example of a closed question is:

Coach- “Did you manage to accomplish the action step we discussed during your last session?”

Client- “Yeah, I did o.k.”

It is more effective for a coach to ask open questions. Open questions are questions which require an individual to elaborate, or provide more details with their answers. An example of an open question is:

Coach- “What was your thought process in setting your long term goals?”

Client- “Well, I really had to look at all the areas of my life, and decide what is important to me.”

A well crafted open question frequently leads to a succession of additional open questions. In the above example of an open question, the client responded, “Well, I really had to look at all areas of my life, and decide what is important to me.” From that response, the coach could proceed by asking the following additional open question:

Coach- “What did you decide was important to you in different areas of your life?”

The client’s response to that open question could allow the coach to proceed with open questions that begin with “why.” Such as:

Coach- “Why is getting a college degree important to you at this stage of your life?”

Open questions typically begin with words and phrases such as, “how”,”what”,”why”,and”tell me.” Open questions that begin with “why” are particularly effective at helping a client discern inner motivations and beliefs.

The ability to ask effective open questions is a skill that must be learned and practiced continuously. Our society moves very quickly, which creates the inclination to want answers immediately. An effective coach must curb that desire in order to help a client help themselves. During the training I received to earn one of my coaching certifications, I learned a very effective technique for developing the skill of asking open questions. The technique involved pairing coaches in a role playing situation. The individuals played the roles of coach and client. The coach was only allowed to ask open questions, regardless of the responses from the “client.”
By routinely practicing this technique, I was able to rapidly acquire the skill of asking open questions.

Categories : Cool Coaching Tips


  1. Bruce H says:

    You’re spot on as usual! How in the heck can a coach learn anything about a client, if they are doing all the talking? There is a reason that the good Lord gave us 2 ears and one mouth!Keep up the good work!


  2. Denise says:

    Hello Michael,
    When I first began coaching, talking too much was the biggest obstacle that I had to overcome. It is important to always ask yourself, “Why am I speaking, shouldn’t I be listening?” Eventually, listening does become a habit, and when it does, your effectiveness as a coach goes through the roof!



    • Mike says:

      Thanks for your input, Denise! I think talking too much is EVERYONE’S biggest obstacle when they first start coaching. Kudos to you for breaking the habit!

  3. Deb says:

    I love asking questions that inspire a new way of thought. That tends to open communication to a whole new level. ie. Do you think this might have been the reason that happened?
    That is also a good way to gauge a person’s mindset, are they open to new possibilities? Do they play the blame game?
    Nice post.

    • Mike says:

      Thanks for your helpful input, Deb. Asking open questions is an excellent way to gauge a client’s mindset. Well constructed open questions should be “provocative.” They can initiate problem solving, as well as constructive introspection.

  4. Carol Perdue says:

    Dear Mike,
    You are so right. I was employed with the local phone company for almost ten years and they beat this into our brains. LOL But in the end, they were so right, and the training and experience was so valuable. It has helped me in my sales endeavors since then. Great article.


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