That Coaching Question Broke My Brain

Coaching questionHave You Ever Asked a Coaching Question that Seemed to Break Your Client’s Brain?

“That coaching question “broke my brain”. That’s what my coach told me his wife said when he asked her a question.

It made me laugh and it made me think. Sometimes coaches ask questions that break their clients brain. That’s not the goal of the coaching question, no one wants to be known as the coach that broke their client’s brain.

The purpose of the coaching question is to help a client explore at a deeper level and to help them gain insight and awareness they can use to move forward. 

Occasionally, you’ll ask a question that breaks the client’s brain. That’s a good thing for you and for your client.

When the brain gets stumped by a deep question, the client goes in a different direction to find the answer and that place is usually to the heart. If your client is new to coaching, they may respond to your inquiries from their brain rather than responding from the heart. They do this because that’s how they operate in the world outside of your coaching session. Most of the time no one notices and no one challenges them on this way of interacting. The gift of a question that breaks the clients brain is the enlightenment or new perspective it gives the client.

The win or the score goes to the client for allowing the question to expand their thinking or to bring clarity to their challenge or situation.

How do you know when a question has an impact on the client’s fixed way of thinking? Here are some things to consider:

  • The they often say, “that’s a good question” or “no one has asked me that before”.
  • They will have a long pause and get very quiet. Let the quiet open space for the client to process. Silence can be uncomfortable, but silence is golden. In the silence, the client is opening and accessing inner information that may have been locked away too deep for them to reach before your question, support them in this process by staying quiet.
  • Sudden emotion or tears. I watched a very powerful man being coached. The person coaching him took the time to look beyond his obvious marks of success and strength and went deeper by asking him the meaning and value connection of the work he was doing. The reserved man first went silent, then tender tears of emotion filled him. He was opening up at a deep level. I applaud the wisdom of the coach for not rushing in to rescue him from the emotion. Instead, he opened space through love and safety for the man being coached to connect to the feelings he was having. The client shared his “why” story. He was not speaking from the head; his heart was engaged and open. He changed right before our eyes, we changed by watching him.

Sometimes a brain breaking coaching question causes the opposite reaction when the client hears it. If they are not ready or able to go deep, you may still have the silence, the emotions or the tears but your client stops. They may even tell you that nothing is going on as you watch tears stream down their face. Trust the process and trust your client. If you have truly asked a brain breaking question, they may have been caught off guard and to their own surprise are having an unexpected reaction.

Serve them by not crowding them, fixing them, or telling them a story about yourself. In that moment, they don’t care about your “I can relate” story. They need the space to explore what’s happening inside of them. They will indicate when they are ready to move forward.

Questions are powerful, not because the coach hit the target. They are powerful because the client connected with the question in a way that meant something to them. That’s when the transformation happens.

When a  coaching question breaks the clients brain, hold steady because it usually means that the question has also opened the clients heart. The open heart is where lasting transformation and change happens.