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How do I start a Coaching Conversation?

How do we start a coaching conversation, without getting off on the wrong foot?

To start off, there is no perfect coaching question to lead into any conversation. However, there are ways to be more targeted. This post discusses a few possible and popular ways to start a coaching conversation and their potential impacts.

1. “What is the problem?”

This question automatically assumes that something is wrong. It puts the person in a negative mindset. Is it always the case that there is something to fix? I might argue no. One effect of this question is also very often that people happily discuss very long what the problems are, instead of focusing what they actually want. This is one of the main reasons why many beginning coaches believe that coaching is very slow.

2. “What do you want to achieve today?”

On the face of it, this question is useful. However, I find it quite ‘technical’. It is almost too straight to the point, Many people will simply not know what they want, especially since they only come to you when they are really desperate. The odd client out who knows what they want (minority) will be helped by this, as it is a shortcut o them. 

3. “What do you want to be coached on today?”

I included this question here for completeness. Frankly, it simply makes me cringe. In many organizations, coaching still carries the stigma of being used only when performance is poor. Who wants to be coached if that is the case? Also, many people will feel that this question pushes the client/team member into a certain role. I have personally observed that people get ‘stiff’ right away, when they hear this question. 

4. “So what brings you here today?”

This question is definitely more open. However, the negative side effect is that the lack of focus might let people wander very far away. Once we are able to manage that aspect, you will benefit from the fact that this question has no built-in assumption, other than the fact that the person is here for SOME reason.

5. “What would make the next minutes really useful to you?”

This question cuts right to the chase. It sharpens the mind of the coachee and gets directly to where we want to go. However, it can be a bit abrupt or direct and requires a bit of warm-up before-hand. I have observed that this question can be bold and useful with clients who would usually spend a lot of time in the beginning in sharing ‘context’. 

6. “How can I help you today?”

Interesting, obvious, but dangerous question. Why? If we ask it very early, we will simply be asked to become an adviser. ‘Can you please please tell me what you think I should do?’. It is all too easy to give in to our ego here and simply be ‘helpful’ by telling them. However, this is not what we aim for as a coach. The magic of this question best unfolds at the end of a coaching conversation; when the client already has an idea, they can confirm with us whether there is any additional thing they could need support on. 

7. “What‘s on your mind?”

This question is useful because it gets to the heart of the matter, without assuming that something must be wrong. I find it quite personal. Also, everyone has things on their mind. This is a fair assumption. It gives people a chance to voice the thing that is most pressing for them. You as a coach may already have a good idea of what they are struggling with, but by asking this question, you would know what the real focus of your conversation should be.

The last question is really the one that I use the most. It has helped me keep an open mind with the person in front of me and give them a chance to share what is really bringing them here. However, there’s one important thing to note. This last question only really works together with the most important follow-up question you can ask: “and what else?”

Very often people test us first. They want to find out how trustworthy are we. When people feel safe, will they share with us what is really on their mind, which is usually some fear or some hesitation? That is why the AWE question (And What Else) can be so powerful here.

Good luck!



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