After you’ve asked a question – be quiet and wait for the answer. Make it a habit 

Small talk might be a useful way to warm up, but it’s rarely the bridge that leads to a conversation that matters.

Coaching for Performance

It’s about addressing and fixing a specific problem or challenge. It’s putting out the fire or a building up the fire or banking the fire.

Coaching for Development

It’s about turning the focus from the issue to the person dealing with the issue, the person who is managing the fire.This conversation is more rare and significantly more powerful.

The Kickstart Question

Start a conversation with the question: “WHAT’S ON YOUR MIND?”. It invites people to get people to the heart of the matter and share what’s important to them. It’s an encouragement to go right away to what’s exciting, what’s provoking anxiety, what’s all-consuming, what’s waking them up at 4 a.m., what’s got their hearts beating fast.

3P: Projects-People-Patterns

Projects -is the content of the situation, the stuff that’s being worked on;

People – its you relationships with others and your role in them;

Patterns – this are the patterns of behavior and ways of working that you’d like to change. This are personal and challenging questions. Not often appropriate in organizations;


  • “What’s on your mind?”, you ask
  • “The [… thing they are working on…]”, they say
  • “So there are three different ways that we could look at it”, you offer.
    “The Project side – any challenges around the actual content.
    The People side – any issue with team members/colleagues/other department/bosses/customers/clients.
    Patterns – if there is a way that you’re getting in your own way, and not showing up the best possible way.
    Where should we start?”
  • [Let them pick one P and talk about it. When they done discussing it, take them to other two Ps] 

Ask the question

If you know what question to ask, get to the point and ask it. Then shut up and listen.

  • “Out of curiosity…”
  • “And What Else?”

Ask it a few times, probably until the person says: “There is nothing else”. That’s good – you’ve reached the end of story.

  • Start with: “What’s on your mind?
  • Then: “What else?
  • Then maybe: “What else could you do?
  • When trying to finds a the root cause of the issue, ask: “What’s the real challenge here for you?...”. Push further with “And what else is a challenge here for you?
  • When starting weekly check-ins: “What’s important right now?”. Keep pressure by asking: “And what else?
  • When someone explores new ideas, ask: “And what else might be possible?

The Focus Question 

The goal is to focus on the real problem, not the first problem.

  • What’s the real challenge here for you?
  • If you had to pick one of these to focus on, which one here would be the real challenge for you?

What makes the focus question works so well are those two final words – “for you”.

Tip: Instead of asking Why, reframe to What? Instead of “Why did you do this?” Ask “What were you hoping for here?”, “What made you choose this course of action?

First Three Questions Combination

  • Open with:
    What’s on your mind? (The perfect way to start; the question is opened but focused)
  • Check in:
    Is there anything else on your mind? (Give the person an option to share additional concerns.)
  • Then begin to focus:
    So what’s the real challenge here for you? (Already the conversation will deepen. Your job now is to find what’s most useful to look at.)
  • Ask:
    And What Else (you’re asking about the real challenge)? Trust me, the person will have something. And there may be more.
  • Probe again:
    Is there is anything else? You’ll have most of what matters in front of you now.
  • So get to the heart of the problem and ask:
    So… what’s the real challenge here for you?

You want those you interact with: your team, your boss, your customers, your suppliers to be engaging rather than with reading. You want your people to feel that working with you is a place of reward, not risk. And you also realize that you want to feel like you are safe so that you can stay at your smartest, rather than in fight or flight mode. 

Silence is often a measure of success. When you asked a question and she doesn’t have the answer ready within the first two seconds, take a breath, stay open and keep quiet for another three seconds. 

Tip: When someone asks you “How do I … ?” Say, “That’s a great question. I’ve got some ideas, which I will share with you. But before I do, what are your first thoughts?”. And when she answers, which she will, you will not your head and be engaged and interested, and when she finishes, say, “ that’s terrific. What else could you do?”. More nodding, more being interested. Then say, “ this is all good. Is there anything else you could try here?”. And then, only then, you can add your own idea. 

The Strategic Question is:

  • If you are saying yes to this, what are you saying no to?
  • “What could being fully committed to this idea look like?“
  • “Just to be clear: what exactly are you saying yes to?”

If you say YES to this:


  • What projects do you need to abandon or postpone?
  • What meetings will you no longer attend?
  • What resources do you need to divert to the yes?


  • What expectations do you need to manage?
  • What relationships will you let wither?


  • What habits do you need to break?
  • What all stories or dating ambitions do you need to update?
  • What beliefs about yourself do you need to let go of?

Five Strategic Questions 

  1. What is our winning aspirations?
    What game are you playing and with (against) whom?
    What impact do you want to have in/on the world?
  2. Where will we play?
    Choosing a sector, geography, product, channel and customer allows you to focus your resources.
  3. How will we win?
    What’s the difference between you and others?
    What’s your “unfair advantage”?
  4. What capabilities must be in place?
    Not just what do you need to do, but how will it become and stay a strength?
  5. What management systems are required?
    It’s easy enough to manage stuff. It’s much harder to figure out what you want to measure that actually matters.

  • What have you learned since the last time we met?
  • What did you learn? 
  • What was the key insight? 
  • What do you want to remember? 
  • What’s important to capture?
  • What was the most useful for you about this conversation? Or
  • What did you find most valuable about this chat? Or
  • What worked best here?