Notes on Michael Stratford’s Life Coach Questions Deconstruction


These are notes on Michael Stratford’s Deconstructing Questions webinar. I’m taking Carly Anderson’s MCC mentor coach program as an iNLP Center training course upgrade project. We’re becoming accredited by ICF for the ACSTH status, which requires me to upgrade my own ICF credential from ACC to PCC or MCC.

Yes/no questions can be answered with three options:

  1. yes
  2. no
  3. maybe

Yes/no questions aren’t bad, but they are not discovery-type questions. They are not powerful questions.

Tell me more is a subtle demand, not a question.

What if you went into your boss and told him how you feel?

The presupposition in this question suggests a solution, which may not be ecological. There is so much about a client we cannot know through a coaching session. Since we don’t have the complete picture, the client is the best source of knowledge.

Game: Questions that Suck

Michael presented a problem. He wants to have a consistent experience of attracting clients. He’s done so in the past, but it’s always seemed random. 

Horrible questions:

  • What is it that you really suck at?
  • What’s wrong with you?
  • What makes you think you can possibly succeed?
  • Why don’t you just give up?
  • How do we know these are terrible questions?

They make you feel bad. You’re judging. You get a bad reaction from the client. You cringe as you ask it. Michael said, “You already know what terrible questions are. Some part of you knows what good questions are.”

Terrible questions are the opposite of powerful questions. We already have the ability to recognize powerful questions. Maybe we can enhance it and understand what powerful questions are built to do and which questions may be guiding our lives.

Powerful Questions Always Come from Coaching Presence

The person asking the question forms the questions. Point of view! Coaches ask questions from the point of view of the coaching equation. We assume the person is capable and competent, so let’s find out what’s interfering. Identify the interference and delete it.

To put the coaching equation into a sentence:

Potential equals performance minus interference.

Thought-provoking questions are not necessarily powerful questions. “Where did the universe come from is thought-provoking but may not be powerful. The power of the questions depends on the context of the client at the moment of coaching. A powerful question today may not be a powerful question tomorrow – or ever again.

Most People Ask Questions from the Default Setting

The role they are used to playing – where they get validation. But you can shift settings – the ability to shift roles. Don’t ask questions according to a stagnant role. Pay attention to the role you need to be in with each and every client.

The ability to switch between settings – your familiar, default role, is critical. Don’t be rigid. But how do you recognize when you’re in a default setting and need to change it?

Notice what seems most familiar and easy. That may be your default setting. Each setting is useful under the right conditions. If your default setting is not useful for the present context, you must switch. You need to have options.

Being aware – present to this moment vs. everything we’ve learned in the past. This is the key.

A solution born within the client meets less resistance from the client than one given from the outside. In coaching – not teaching and consulting. But you have to get over yourself. You are not being valued and paid for being an answer person. Rather, a question person! Questions always take us further. Questions have a stopping point.

When we solve problems. endorphins are released. When coaches solve problems for clients, the coaches get the endorphins, not the client. Who gets the juice?

Deconstructing Powerful Questions

What do you believe stands between you and complete happiness?

How do you need me to be with you right now?

Compare these two:

What would it take for you to double your profit margin?

What would it take for you to double your profit margin with half the effort?

The second question pops the client out of his current paradigm and into a world of new possibilities.

How to Form Powerful Questions

They flow through the coach intuitively, based on the coaches study, practice, skills, and personal paradigm. Don’t try to form a question. Allow it to form based on your coaching presence, experience, and skills acquired.

That sums it up nicely. Don’t relate to client’s in a formulaic fashion because they are not formulas. Each client is a one-of-a-kind individual. Stay present with the person in front of you now and attend to what they are revealing now. Look for the difference, not the sameness.

Final Question

What new worldviews would you hold if your questions were regularly targeted at the who of the client instead of the detail of the what?

A follow-up exercise can be found at Success and Life Coaching.