Appendix C: Types of Questions To Ask: Exploring a Variety of Perspectives

Adapted from: Sharpe, K. & Nishimura, J. (2017). When mentoring meets coaching: Shifting the stance in education. Toronto: Pearson Canada Inc.

(Download a PDF version of Appendix C: Types of Questions to Ask)

Questions that: Support the person’s agenda
Examples: What do you want to focus on today? What matters most for you in this?
Questions that: Support forward movement and change
Examples: What’s possible now? What needs your immediate attention going forward? How is this going to move you forward?

Questions that: Expand awareness
Examples: Stepping back, what do you notice? What’s emerging? What else? What’s missing? Where do you want to be?
Questions that: Generate possibilities
Examples: What options have you considered? What have you not considered? Big picture, what else is possible?

Questions that: Are open-ended
Examples: What are your assumptions here? What haven’t we considered? How can I support you?
Questions that: Stretch and build capacity
Examples: Where are you in this? What’s the next level of thinking that you need to access? What’s hard in this for you?

Questions that: Explore current conditions
Examples: What do you know for sure? What questions have you been asking yourself? What feels like a challenge for you in this?
Questions that: Explore the learning edge (the capacity “not to know”)
Examples: What support do you want? Where is the stretch in this for you?

Questions that: Surface and challenge the person’s beliefs and assumptions
Examples: What belief are you operating from? What assumption are you holding
Questions that: Access creativity
Examples: If you could do this any way you wanted…? What if… What have you not considered?

Questions that: invite reflection
Examples: Where were you challenged? What feedback would be most valuable for you right now? In looking back on it now, what stands out?
Questions that: Separate the person from the problem (Epston, 1996)
Examples: How would you describe the problem, keeping yourself out of the equation? What do you know for sure about the problem?

Questions that: Serve the person’s vision and larger purpose
Examples: Where were you challenged? What feedback would be most valuable for you right now? In looking back on it now, what stands out?
Questions that: invite the person to generate their own questions
Examples: What have we missed? And the question you want to ask yourself right now is…?

Types of Questions to Avoid

Questions that: grow out of our judgment, interpretation, or agenda for the person
Example: This sounds challenging—are your students capable of doing this? What if we started with your professional development goals? I think you need to pay attention to them.Questions that:

Questions that:: are in service of our curiosity rather than the person’s agenda
Example: How has your [supervisor, Chair, etc.] been managing things? What on earth were the students thinking?

Questions that: are closed (often begin with verbs such as do, did, does, can, will, and are and can be answered with “yes” or “no”
Example: Are things going any better? Do you think you are prepared? Will you be practicing regularly?

Questions that: are leading or suggestive (reflect where we think the conversation should go, rather than inviting the person to do their own work)
Example: Sounds like some change is required… Have you thought about inviting them in for a conversation? How can you get students involved immediately?

Questions that: are intended to advise or fix (can suspend the capacity building and undermine the person’s competence and confidence)
Example: How about getting someone else to lead the meeting? Clearly the lesson is a problem. What about changing the assignment?

Questions that: are stacked (several at once)
Example: How do you think it’s going to go?…Are you nervous?…What support do you need?

Questions that: ask“Why?” (should be used sparingly as they typically invite a defensive response)
Example: Why did you do that? You aren’t going to send the email? Why not? Why do you continue to let that get to you?

Questions that: ask for unnecessary detail (take up precious time and space without moving the person forward)
Examples: What happened at the meeting? How did you let them know?

Questions that: are problem-focused (can be a slippery slope toward venting, justification, and details…regaining traction and forward movement can be extremely challenging)
Examples: What is it about this problem that has you all fired up? What is stressing you out? How long has this been going on?

The “best” questions to ask are…

  • Simple, Clean, and Clear
  • Poignant and On Target
  • Energizing and Emotive
  • Provocative
  • Results Oriented
  • Creating Space and Perspective
  • Relationship Building
  • Challenging

Adapted from: Sharpe, K. & Nishimura, J. (2017). When mentoring meets coaching: Shifting the stance in education. Toronto: Pearson Canada Inc.