The Importance of Questions: How to be Your Own Coach (or Coach Someone Else)

By high school, every student in Canada knows the question:“to be, or not to be?” Why is it so renowned?  It’s haunting, existential – especially when you see the likes of Adrian Lester or David Tennant perform it.

It’s also a well-constructed question. The first 6 words establish a balance – to be, or not to be. There is a direct opposition. Hamlet is thinking about life and death, pondering a state of being versus a state of not being – all in just one, simple question.

It’s clear that questions have the capacity to influence, inspire and impact, but we may not have the time to come up with the world’s most quoted line on the fly. So how do we mere mortals know the right questions to ask in our daily lives?

The Socratic Method and the Work of a Coach

We go back further in time and ask Socrates!  That’s the obvious answer, isn’t it? The Socratic approach is based on the practice of disciplined and thoughtful dialogue, asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking. Many of us experienced this technique in law school. The teacher professes ignorance about a topic so that the student develops the fullest possible knowledge.

This is, at its core, the work of a coach: to engage a client through – the use of questions – so that the client arrives at their own solution.

5 Types of Questions to Help you be a Coach

Combining the work of Socrates and my training as a coach, I’ve come up with 5 types of questions that I use in my practice that I know will be helpful to you:

  1. Questions to determine the starting point.
  2. Questions to reason.
  3. Questions to build appreciation.
  4. Questions for action.
  5. Questions to reinforce.

Let’s work through an example so you get a feel for it.  What if someone came to you and said: “I don’t think I’m cut out to be a lawyer!”

Questions to Determine the Starting Point

You would naturally ask questions, like:

  • What happened?
  • Where is that coming from?
  • What makes you say that?
  • Where did you get that idea?
  • What’s causing you to feel that way?

Depending on how the person answers these questions, you’ll have a sense of which direction to go next. Let’s assume the person has had a good performance review with the exception of one critique that they received. This one critique is prompting them to question their whole career as a lawyer.

Questions to Help the Person Reason on the Matter

Here are some questions that are designed to gain perspective:

  • Why have you placed so much weight on that one critique? Maybe they say, “because I really respect that person and thought I was doing good work for them, and don’t understand where I went wrong.”
  • What do you need then? Maybe they say, “to know what I could’ve done differently.”
  • How would that change things for you? Maybe they say “help me know whether I’m capable of doing the work or not.”
  • Looking at both sets of reviews then, what other conclusions can you draw? Maybe they say, “that I am a good lawyer and that I can afford be more open to feedback when it’s not positive.”

Questions to Build Appreciation

Once another viewpoint is introduced or a light bulb moment has happened, you could ask:

  • How does that make you feel to say that aloud? They might say, “like a weight’s been lifted off my shoulders. I might have overreacted to that one piece of feedback.”
  • What are the benefits of adopting this new conclusion? They might say, “it’s healthier and gives me hope to know that I can do something about it, instead of just giving up.”

Questions for Action

To move into action mode, ask:

  • What can you do about it? They could say, “speak to the partner about what I could’ve done differently so I can learn from my mistakes and move on.”
  • How are you going to start? They could say, “schedule a meeting with them as soon as I get back to my office.”

Questions to Reinforce a Learning Moment

You’ll want to reinforce the learning that has occurred and ask:

  • What are you taking away? They might conclude, “that I need to work on my perfectionist tendencies since I clearly overreacted and am doing good work.”


Some of you may be wondering why you’d go through all this work and not just accelerate the process by simply telling the person that they overreacted.  After all, they’ve come to that conclusion as well!

But, do you really think you’d be able to convince them of that after they had already convinced themselves of being a terrible lawyer? Likely not!

These five sets of questions are designed to empower yourself and the people you encounter to think through their own ideas and challenges to readjust their own thinking, on their own terms.

Questions have the capacity to influence, inspire and impact.

If you prefer to work with a coach or would like to pick up more coaching skills for your practice or workplace, then set up a 30-minute complimentary call with Lawyer Coach Paulette to learn more:



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