Tracy Fuller's picture Submitted by Tracy Fuller May 12, 2021 - 2:37pm


A prior Institute of Coaching Research Dose on Beautiful Coaching Questions (Cook & Moore, 2020) noted that “coaches collect great questions.”

These questions are typically focused on expanding our clients’ capacity. On a recent Zoom huddle of IOC Fellows, however, we pivoted to questions that expand a coach’s capacity.

In the moment, we generated and curated a diverse list of reflection questions that can deepen our awareness and effectiveness in ways that are important to us. 

Establishing a practice of selecting, considering, and capturing our insights from reflection questions produces two powerful benefits:

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

Peter Jackson (2004), noted in his research on “Understanding the Experience of Experience: A Practical Model of Reflective Practice for Coaching,” that,

“…structured reflection through the effect of rehearsal creates a more accessible habit or capability of reflection. This enables the individual to manage their immediate responses to events, not as a question of resolve, but because they become more able to reflect in the moment.”

McKinsey (2020),  also recently described several benefits at different stages of this simple but powerful practice.  

“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.”

You can use and adapt many different kinds of reflection questions:  

There are broad yet beneficial questions:
  • What went especially well? 
  • What didn't go as well as I’d like?
  • What would I do more of, less of, or differently moving forward?
  • What was missing? 
  • Where could there have been a better balance? What am I noticing?
Questions based on the coach’s experience:
  • What did the client - or this session - teach me?
  • Where did I do too much? Where could I have done more?
  • Where is my energy now? What does that tell me?
  • What was challenging for me?
  • Where did I find myself needing to self-manage?
  • Where did I feel constriction or judgement in myself and what brought that on?
  • Are there any past patterns I need to consider, for me? My client?
  • What assumptions did I make?
  • What is my gut telling me?
Questions based on different coaching skills:
  • What was the impact of my level of presence?
  • What was the impact of how I listened for potential?
  • How did I address inconsistencies when I sensed them?
  • How much did I talk vs. how much did I listen?
  • Did I coach the person or the problem?
  • How aware was I of body language and emotions? How effectively did I manage them?
  • How effectively did I use silence?
  • Where could I have encouraged more exploration? 
  • How could I have helped the client be more courageous?
  • How could I have been better prepared for this session? What will I do differently as a result?
Questions based on the client’s experience:
  • What worked particularly well for this client? How do I know this?
  • What’s animating this coaching process for this client at a deeper level?
  • What new possibilities is the client recognizing?
  • What did the client most want to or need to achieve today?
  • What am I noticing is really important to this client?
  • What were the emotions of the client? How engaged were they feeling?
  • How aware is the client of potential stumbling blocks?  How does this impact their progress?
  • Where did the client seem most alive?
Some that focus on the conversation itself:
  • What was most fun about this conversation?
  • What came up during the session that I/we didn’t expect?
  • Where did we spend time on things that weren’t essential?
  • Where was the deepest reflection in the conversation? Where could there have been more?
  • What percentage of this conversation was focused on support, what percentage on stretch?
  • What was intriguing about this conversation?
  • What new connections showed up during the session?
  • What metaphor would crystallize the session?
As well as some focusing on the partnership within the coaching conversation: 
  • What forms of intelligence did we tap into?
  • What were we really talking about?
  • What was left unsaid?
  • What’s disconnected that needs connecting?
  • What could we have done differently to produce a better outcome?
  • Are we focusing more on the negative/challenges or the positive/possibilities?
  • What kinds of outcomes are we most often creating? What can we learn from this?
  • How has our partnership evolved since the previous session?
  • What am I noticing is evolving over the course of our work?
  • What could we be ready to celebrate?

Take-Aways for Coaches
  • Many coaches have seen how their hard-working clients instinctively respond to complexity and change by taking action - without stepping back soon enough or often enough to gain greater clarity or insight.  This can be a missed opportunity for coaches as well.
  • Establishing a self-coaching practice of choosing timely reflection questions and considering them after our coaching sessions can accelerate our own skill development.
  • This practice is an opportunity to exercise our growth mindsets and ongoing curiosity about how to become a better coach.
  • Our reflection questions may change, depending on our client’s or our own interests and needs. Documenting our responses can help us notice patterns and develop deeper insights over time.
A gray piece of paper is taking up most of the space, with a sliver of white background at the bottom. In black type font a quote reads: We do not learn from experience... we learn from reflecting on experience. In blue handwritten font at the center bottom are the words John Dewey, who spoke this quote.

Christensen, L., Gittleson, J., & Smith, M. (2021). The most fundamental skill: Intentional learning and the career advantage. McKinsey & Company.
Cook, A. & Moore, M. (2020). Beautiful Coaching Questions. Institute of Coaching.
Hay, J. (2015). Reflective practice and supervision for coaches.
Jackson, P. (2015). Understanding the experience of experience: a practical model of reflective practice for Coaching. Institute of Coaching.