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How to Have Great Conversations | Coaching technique

Updated: Jun 3, 2019

What is coaching?

Coaching has many definitions and I understand the whole concept originates from sports coaching. Coaching in a work context is pretty much unlocking a person's potential to maximise their own performance. Coaching is different to mentoring. I will write a separate blog about mentoring.

There are many definitions of coaching:

"Unlocking a person's potential to maximise their own performance" - Whitmore (1996)

"The art of facilitating the perfomance, learning and development of another" - Downey (1999)

"A collaborative, solution - focused, results - orientated and systematic process in which the coach facilitates the enhancement of work performance, life experience, self-directed and personal growth of the coachee" - Grant (2000)

"A coach is a collaborative partner who works with the learner to help them achieve goals, solve problems, learn and develop" - Caplan (2003)

"Primary a short term intervention aimed at performance improvement or developing a particular competence" - Clutterbuck (2003)

"Coaching is an enabling process to increase performance, development and fulfilment" - Alexander (2005)

"Put simply, coaching is a conversation one person has with another. The person who is the coach intends to produce a conversation that will benefit the other person, the coachee, in a way that relates to the coachee's learning and progress. Coaching conversation might happen in many different environments/situations" - Julie Starr (The Coaching Manual)


Coaches are supposed to help by asking the right questions and never judge. Emphasis is on what is real and what can be done. Coaching can tie in other learning. It works best frequently and in small doses and it involves regular feedback. Needs the balance of support, control and freedom.

Coaching in a nutshell is all about listening, asking open ended questions most of the time, no interrupting and letting the coachee realise their own potential and come to solutions on their own, without you telling them your experience and what you think they should do. This bit is the hardest. In most conversations when we have someone confiding in us, the most natural thing to many of us is to jump to what we would do without any consideration as to whether that would be suitable and appropriate for the other person who is sharing their problem/issue/dilemma with us.


What are open questions?

Open questions are best to start exploring the issue. They offer the other person an opportunity to give full and expansive answers if they choose to, and evasivness is easy to pick up. Open questions usually start with "What", "Who", "Where", "When", "Why" and "How". Asking this type of questions means you have to listen carefully to the answers given - they may be unexpected. "Why" questions - be careful with these questions as they can seem accusatory at times which can make the other person become defensive. This means it will be very likely a lot harder to influence and help them.

What are closed questions?

Closed questions restrict the other person to answer with either Yes or No. It is suggested to use closed questions to tie up loose ends in your mind after 'an open' question or to identify an area of questioning before using further 'open' questions. For example, closed questions often start with ''Will you'', ''Can you'' or ''Do you''.

How to start a coaching conversation?

"Tell me about" is an excellent way of opening a conversation up, and it can sound a little more personable than your standard open questions. The skill is to use it sparingly when you want someone to elaborate more and draw them towards you. I often tend to say "tell me what is going on in your world."

Probing questions delve further into what the other person has said, following up their comments with really specific requests for information on the issue. By definition, probing requires you to listen attentively to what's being said so you can ask relevant follow up questions. Remember - "Silence is golden - and an excellent question". Allow for silence to take place properly and make sure you let people finish fully their sentences. This will enable you to have a great conversation and person you are taking to will feel listened to.

"Seek first to understand then to be understood" - Stephen R. Covey

How to practice effective listening?
Be all EARS!

E - empathy, eye contact, ease, encouragement, equality

A - attention, articulation, allow quiet time for thinking

R - respect, reflecting back, rapport

S - silence, sincere interest, summarising, seek to understand

Please let me know if you have any further questions around coaching in comments below or send me an email on

Thank you for reading as always!


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