Home » Blog » Self-Reflective Questioning: A Tool to build your capacity as a Coach

Reflection is based on the premise that we learn more about ourselves from our experiences and what they teach us. Forming a habit or discipline of reflection is of paramount importance in our journey of self-discovery, learning, and growth. Just as powerful questioning can enrich a coaching conversation,coaches can use self-reflective questioning to gauge the quality of their conversations in terms of how enabling they are for the client and hence polish their craft. Reflection can happen before, during, and after the coaching session is over. To derive maximum benefit from this process of self-reflection, we need to practise it consistently and sincerely.

Benefits of Reflective Questioning

Tracy Fuller, in an IOC publication, talks about how establishing a practise of selecting, considering, and capturing our insights from reflection questions produces two powerful benefits:

  • Enabling us to continuously build our efficacy,coaching session after coaching session.
  • While simultaneously strengthening our reflection-in-action skills.

McKinsey (2020) also describes several benefits at different stages of this simple yet powerful practise.

Reflection that promotes learning happens in three primary moments: before, during, and after a task. 

Forecasting a cognitive task simply means looking ahead. In these moments,we are thinking ahead about how we might tackle a task,how we will approach a problem,or what we will say during a difficult conversation. We’re reflecting on what’s coming. This process of forecasting or planning primes us to learn.

When we reflect during an event, we can correct our course and make adjustments. We notice what is happening even as we are “in the arena” and can learn and experiment in the moment.

Finally,retrospective reflection lets us look at a past situation,consider how effective our actions were,and then project forward to how we would approach a similar event in the future.”

The ‘knowing’ and ‘doing’ in reflection

Everything that coaches draw upon to help them make decisions quickly and instinctively is their ‘knowing’ (Schön, 1983). Knowing relies not only on experience but also on thinking about those experiences to discover what you need and to understand what you can do better next time. You need to know what worked and what didn’t. Could using silence have served the client better than the question that you asked? How well did anchoring the conversation on a particular topic support the client in bringing awareness and insight? Such reflective questions support the coach in the process of “knowing,” which then brings to the fore the importance of ‘doing’ in the reflection process. Simply knowing is not enough; it has to be followed by ‘doing’ or trying out what you now know through your reflection. Unless you implement your new learnings in your sessions,you will not ‘know’ if they worked for the client or if they enhanced the quality of your conversation by a notch.

John Dewey, a psychologist, philosopher, and education reformer, is thought to be the founder of reflection as it relates to personal learning. Dewey said,

We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.”

Reflective Questions

Let’s take a look at some examples of reflective questions that can help sharpen your coaching skills and elevate both your and your clients’ experiences:

  1. What went particularly well?
  2. How motivated was the client at the end of the conversation?
  3. What was that one thing that was missing?
  4. How much movement was made in the realm of self-exploration for the client?
  5. Where did I notice judgement creeping in, and what can I do about it?
  6. Was the conversation directed towards coaching the person or the problem? 
  1. How sensitive was I to the client’s identity,environment,experiences, values, and beliefs?
  2. How can I use my self-awareness and intuition to benefit the client?
  3. Was I able to partner with the client to define what the client needs to address or resolve to achieve what they want to accomplish in the session?
  4. How open am I to demonstrating transparency and openness as a way to display vulnerability and build trust with the client?
  5. How curious was I, and how can I develop it further?
  6. Am I comfortable working in a space of not knowing? If not,what can I do to build my confidence in this domain?
  7. Was I able to create space for silence, pause, and reflection?
  8. How well was I able to summarise what the client had communicated, and did it lead to clarity and understanding?
  9. What can support me in noticing, acknowledging, and exploring the client’s emotions,energy shifts, and non-verbal cues?
  10. Were my questions powerful enough to encourage the client to explore beyond their current thinking?
  11. How can I get the client to share more about their experience in the moment?
  12. Did I celebrate the progress made by the client during the session?

The above and many such reflective questions can help build your reflective practise. What is needed is sincerity to hone your craft and discipline to forge ahead with consistency on this path of self-reflection and development. It will definitely bring about growth as a coach and a human being,the satisfaction of getting better every day, and the confidence to give your best to every conversation. This, in turn, will lead to high-quality coaching conversations that will benefit your clients and enrich your coaching journey.

Frequently Asked Questions 

What is self-reflective questioning and why is it important for coaches?

Self-reflective questioning is a practice where coaches ask themselves thoughtful and introspective questions to gain deeper insights into their coaching practice, beliefs, and behaviours. It is important for coaches because it helps them develop self-awareness, uncover blind spots, and continuously improve their coaching skills. Self-reflective questioning allows coaches to align their intentions, values, and actions, leading to more authentic and impactful coaching interactions.

How can practising self-reflective questioning enhance my coaching skills and effectiveness?

Practising self-reflective questioning enhances coaching skills and effectiveness by promoting personal growth and professional development. It helps coaches identify areas of improvement, refine their coaching approaches, and develop a greater understanding of their clients’ needs. Through self-reflection, coaches can cultivate empathy, adapt their style to individual clients, and deepen their ability to ask powerful questions that lead to meaningful client insights and transformation.

What are some key principles or guidelines to follow when engaging in self-reflective questioning as a coach?

Some key principles for engaging in self-reflective questioning as a coach include creating a non-judgmental and open mindset, being curious and genuinely interested in personal growth, setting aside dedicated time for self-reflection, maintaining a journal or reflective practice, seeking feedback from mentors or peers, and being willing to challenge and question one’s own assumptions and biases.

How can self-reflective questioning help me better understand my own coaching style, strengths, and areas for growth?

Self-reflective questioning allows coaches to gain a deeper understanding of their coaching style, strengths, and areas for growth. By reflecting on their coaching sessions, reviewing client feedback, and exploring their own thoughts and emotions during coaching interactions, coaches can identify patterns, recognize their unique strengths, and uncover areas that need improvement. Self-reflective questioning helps coaches become more self-aware, facilitating continuous growth and development.

What are some common challenges or pitfalls to be aware of when using self-reflective questioning, and how can I navigate them effectively?

Common challenges in self-reflective questioning include falling into self-criticism, avoiding difficult questions, or lacking objectivity. To navigate these challenges, it is important to approach self-reflection with self-compassion, focus on learning and growth rather than judgement, and seek different perspectives through peer feedback or supervision. Developing a regular self-reflection practice and maintaining an open mindset can help overcome these challenges.