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Exploring career mentoring and coaching
Exploring career mentoring and coaching

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3.2 Questioning

Another key aspect of a mentor or coach’s role is to ask intuitive questions that enable them to understand any issues and support their client in resolving them.

A Pocketbook for Mentees (Lowbridge, 2012, pp. 20–21) suggests ‘20 killer questions’ that a mentor might ask, including:

  • What do you want to focus on today?
  • What is happening now that is working well?
  • What is happening now that tells you that you have a problem?
  • Where do you want to be a year from now? How will you measure your success?
  • What do you not know about this situation/project? How could you find out?
  • What do you enjoy about what you do?
  • What have you learned from this?
  • What will you do next?

In the coaching context, Van Nieuwerburgh (2017, Chapter 4, pp. 41–51) devotes a chapter of his book to ‘Asking powerful questions’. In it he presents a selection of what he calls ‘thought-provoking questions’, including:

  • How would you describe…?
  • How might this situation…?
  • What would you…?
  • What other options…?
  • What makes this situation…?
  • How else might you…?

He explains that if the response to the question is silence, this is a good thing and indicates that the question was thought-provoking in some way.

These questions are largely interchangeable between a mentoring and coaching context, but there may be a difference in the motivation behind asking them, i.e. a coach wants their client to realise something about themselves through their answers to the questions, whereas the mentor can also use responses to identify the best advice and experience to share with their mentee.

As the client on the receiving end of mentoring or coaching, your listening and questioning skills are not under such scrutiny. However, actively listening to what the mentor or coach is asking will allow you to really understand the questions they are asking you and have a better experience.

Sometimes, however, it isn’t possible to develop an effective relationship with your mentor or coach. In the next section, you’ll explore some of the reasons for that.