Section 14.2: Open-ended Questions

Navy Gill and Sydney Mayer

During a coaching session with an employee, it is important to consider the type of questions you will ask. These questions should be prepared ahead of time to set up the flow of the discussion. A coaching session should be designed to be a valuable discussion, which can be evoked by asking open-ended questions, ones that cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or “no” (Cates, 2020). Using open-ended questions helps the employee to think critically and come up with answers and new possibilities. (The Non-profit Association of Oregon, 2016).
As the coach, you want to be careful not to lead the employee to a certain solution or ask very specific questions. Instead, the coach should simply guide the discussion by asking broad and expansive general questions, which can leave a lot of room for the employee to fill in what is right for them (The Non-profit Association of Oregon, 2016).

Some Examples of Open-Ended Questions

  • How do you think you’ll overcome these obstacles in our project?
  • Tell me about your thought process?
  • What would you like to accomplish from this presentation?
  • How do you think we can make the product better?

Examples of What NOT to Ask

  • Do you think this process is efficient?
  • Why didn’t you do this?
  • Do you not think we could improve performance by changing this?
  • Did you find this meeting helpful?

Asking open-ended questions allows the employee to critically think and share their answer with no assumption that the coach has a preconceived opinion. This gives the impression that the coach is looking down on them, and the employee might get defensive in response (The Non-profit Association of Oregon, 2016).

When asking open-ended questions, a key aspect for coaches to focus on is listening; therefore, it is important that the coach talks minimally to allow the employee to share their thoughts and speak for the majority of the conversation (The Non-profit Association of Ore-gon, 2016). This ensures the employee feels heard and understood while also allowing them to develop their own solutions to the issues they are facing, which will motivate them to change behaviour patterns to reach their goals (Jimenez, 2020).

A benefit of asking the employee open-ended questions is that it encourages critical thinking. It is important to give the employee time to gather their thoughts, which gives the coach time to contemplate the employee’s viewpoint (Schneider, 2018). While an employee is giving their answer, the coach can look for common themes and have some time to develop their response.



The idea of feedforward is that a coaching session focuses on the future performance and pathway of the employee’s career instead of giving feedback on events that happened in the past (Kruse, 2012). This vision dispenses with the idea that an employee has not succeeded and needs to be critiqued and instead emphasizes how they will achieve their goals in the future. This positive approach drives employee engagement as well as growth and development (Kruse, 2012).

According to Kruse, there are four key elements to the Feed Forward Coaching Model:

  • Focus on goals, not standards. Instead of explaining the standards and expectations, speak to the goals the employee is seeking and ask them what they think they can do to get there.
  • Include career guidance. A coaching session is not just about what is currently happening. The session should include guidance on how the employee can grow and develop in their careers, boosting the employee’s motivation to get there.
  • Include data points, not just the manager’s opinion. Feedback may stem from opinions. Feedforward allows you to review data points and identify ways to change them in the future.
  • Takes place during the year, not once annually. Feedforward is a continuous process. The discussion follows through, throughout the year.

Giving feedback is said to be an ancient practice, and employers are heavily encouraged to implement feedforward check-ins between managers and employees (C, 2018). Studies show that managers and employees both dread annual performance reviews (C, 2018), which is why the feedforward model is now being used in more and more organizations. The feedforward model encourages positive behavioural change under a specific context that drives an employee to reach personal and organizational goals.


The Value of Coaching

Research has proven that coaching is highly effective for individuals and organizations, indicating that individuals who participate in coaching demonstrated dramatic improvements in specific skills and overall performance (Saks and Haccoun, 2018). For employees, coaching can improve working relationships and job attitudes within the organization, which can ultimately lead to an increase in the rate of advancement and salary increases. In addition, coaching unlocks latent potential and reinforces strong skills where they already exist. The company itself will also benefit from coaching, as it is effective in improving productivity, quality, customer service, retention, cost reductions, and reducing customer complaints, enabling the organization to reach peak performance levels (Payne, 2007).


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People Learning and Development Copyright © by Navy Gill and Sydney Mayer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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