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Time to think, tailored to each customer:

helps people think outside the box  

....  but doesn't come out of one

Powerful questions ctd

Questions to help see past obstacles


Depending on the situation and the individual, obstacles might need to be flagged up:

  • As you think of making progress towards this – what might stand in your way?

  • Are there any negative consequences of having this?


At other times, you may need questions to re-frame obstacles which seem overwhelming:

  • How can you build on what you can control?     How can you manage what you can’t control?

  • If _____ [obstacle] were removed, what would you then focus your energy on (9)?


Questions to help stop you giving answers


If all the above questions seem not to be succeeding in creating progress, coach-mentors may be tempted to give 'answers'. Giving too many 'answers' answers can create dependency, risks being too directive, and dilutes the  A better option is to make an observation to encourage the thinking process, with comment on particular items if you wish:

  • So what you’re saying is, you  _____ [summary of what has just been said]?

  • Well, you said you _____ [summary], and I was wondering what else you might have done?

  • _____ [summary]  came as quite a surprise to you then? Tell me more.


Interrupting with questions


By definition interrupting usually means you tend to stop listening. However, Gerard Egan makes the point that “when interrupting promotes the kind of dialogue that serves the problem-management process, it is useful .” (10)   In other words, as long as it is not mid-sentence, and comprises a gentle gesture and a summarising comment like “You’ve made several points. I want to make sure I’ve understood them”, interrupting can be a useful tool in the mentoring process – for both parties.


Questions to review how things have gone


Asking review questions assists a culture of openness, makes a difference in how learners appreciate the benefits accruing, and enables both parties to ask for and act on issues - as opposed to waiting passively for feedback:

  • How was that last exchange? Is this session working well so far?

  • How did things go after the last session? What impact has the last session had on things?

  • What three top benefits have these conversations brought to your work since we started off?

  • Is this style and approach working for you? Can you see a need for things to change later on?

  • Are there any issues which might not be working as well as you’d expected originally?

  • Are we still on track to meet the original goals for the partnership – or do these need to change?

  • If you hadn’t had these mentoring sessions – what would be different now?


Finally, some questions to ask yourself

  How true is each?                 Very true  -   Not at all                         5     4     3     2     1

      How important is this?           Very much  –  Not at all                        5     4     3     2     1

  • I can listen and hear what is said – really  hear

  • I can  question and challenge others...and my own thinking

  • I can summarise and reflect back to others

  • I can give and receive constructive feedback

  • I can point out connections and contradictions

  • I can display empathy and understanding with others

  • I can encourage problem solving and seek solutions

  • I can recognise and acknowledge emotions

  • I can  trust others and build trust with others

  • I can be open and honest with myself and others

  • I can be a ‘tough friend’ who challenges positively


To pinpoint where things are going  well or a development need, compare the difference between the column scores:

  • no difference =  OK (‘I do a lot of this and it is important / I don’t do much and it isn’t important’);

  • difference  =  some issue (‘I don’t do much … but it is key /  I do this all the time … and it doesn’t help’).




     1. James Flaherty, Coaching: evoking excellence in others, 1999

     2. Julie Starr, The Coaching Manual, 2002

     3. Nancy Kline, Time to Think , 2005

     4. John Whitmore, Coaching for Performance, 1992

     5. Mick Cope, 7 Cs of Coaching, 2004

     6. Gerard Egan, The Skilled Helper, 1998

     7. Julie Hay, Transformational Mentoring,  1995 & 1999

     8. Mike Pegg, The Mentor’s Book, 2003

     9. Nancy Kline, Time to Think , 2005

     10. Gerard Egan, The Skilled Helper,  1998.