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Help clients ask better questions

Masterful coaches help clients see life and ministry from different angles of vision. Listed below are two common approaches coaches can use to help individuals and groups think more holistically and creatively. The approaches may be used for individual reflection, pre-work for a meeting or coaching session, or during a coaching conversation.

APPROACH 1 | Ask Questions Like a Journalist
  • WHY are we considering this? What is the purpose? How does it fulfill our mission?
  • WHERE is this leading us? Is it helping us live into our vision?
  • WHOM are we seeking to serve? What are their needs? Do we offer what they need?
  • HOW will we launch this ministry? What is the plan and process for moving forward?
  • WHEN might we launch this? Is this the right time? How long will it last? When will we assess our results?

APPROACH 2 | Edward de Bono’s 6 Thinking Hats
Each hat is a different color, representing a different evaluation task. Assign leaders within your group a color, asking them raised questions about the proposal or program being discussed through the lens.

The WHITE Hat (Paper: Symbolizes available or missing information)
  • What information do we have? What information do we need? What information is missing?
  • What questions should we be asking?

The RED Hat (Fire & Head: Symbolizes feelings, intuition, and emotions)
  • What energizes us about this proposal?
  • What’s our gut instinct about the plan? What are our feelings about what we’ve discussed so far?
  • How do we sense others would respond to this idea?

The BLACK Hat (Judge’s robe: symbolizes caution)
  • What will this cost us in the way of time, money, and human resources?
  • What are the possible downsides to this proposal?
  • Who else has done this? How did it work for them?
  • Is this the best use of our resources?

The GREEN Hat (Vegetation: Symbolizes, growth, energy, and life)
  • What do we like about this idea? How might we build on what’s been proposed?
  • What other possibilities are we overlooking?
  • Who else should we talk to for more ideas?

The BLUE Hat (Symbolizes the need for developing a decision-making process)
  • What are the steps for moving forward if we decide to act? Who is responsible for each step?
  • Who else needs to know about the decision we’re making? How will we get the word out to people?
  • What criteria will be used to determine if we’re successful?

The YELLOW Hat (Sunshine: Symbolizes optimism and possibilities)
  • What are the good points about this proposal?
  • What are the benefits for moving forward?
  • Who would benefit from this program or ministry?
  • How would people experience these benefits?

When coaches use Approach 2 with a group or team, they may assign a person to "wear" a particular color hat and ask questions of their colleagues through the lens of that unique perspective.

As a coach, where might you envision using these questions or approaches in your settings? What else might a coach do to help clients raise better questions that broaden people's perspectives?

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Kate - March 10th, 2021 at 3:10pm

I can imagine using the 6 hat method to help a client or organization get a better picture of what they are focusing on and unearthing what they might be missing.

I like the idea of asking people what their own questions as a way of encouraging their own process of questioning. It strikes me that coaches ask a lot of questions but don't always ask clients what their questions are. It seems like soliciting questions from a client could provide the coach with insight into what they are wondering and what they might want to work on.

Mike Marsh - March 11th, 2021 at 9:28am

I have occasionally used the six thinking hats with the vestry. And earlier this week I offered it as a resource to a newly ordained deacon who has been assigned to a small congregation.

One of the things I like about the six thinking hats is it let's everyone think about the same category of questions knowing all the categories will be addressed. It helps avoid group conversations in which one person dreams big and another responds with all the reasons that won't work. I think it also offers a structure and accountability for looking at a situation from different angles. That way we don't focus on only the questions we like or are comfortable with and avoid others we don't like or want to deal with.

The journalist questions seem a bit more fact/information oriented. I think they would be helpful in insuring that a decision is not made too quickly or easily and that it is based on some principled thinking and not just "This is what I want to do," or "It feels right." This was part of our vestry conversation as we considered resuming further in-person activities.

William Mills - March 11th, 2021 at 10:53am

I think I would probably go automatically into the "journalist" mode by default and I can see how those types of questions are important. However, I really see the benefit of the 6 hat model. I never considered that before nor have I used it in a group setting such as a parish council or small group work. I can see how if people look at the situation/event through different lenses and perspectives how ideas and creativity could arise. I can also see the benefit of creating conversations. I'm not sure how I'll use the 6 hat method but I will certainly look for opportunities.

Jessie Bazan - March 12th, 2021 at 12:27pm

Thinking like a journalist comes naturally to me, so I'm glad to see that framework offered for coaching.

I'm intrigued by the six thinking hats approach. People tend to default to various aspects of a plan, depending on their areas of expertise or involvement. This type of approach invites clients to explore a wider swath of the process. I could see the red hat being challenging for some people, as feelings or emotions can be discounted. However, these parts of us can be valuable sources of knowing. I'm eager to try this with clients.

Carl Horton - March 15th, 2021 at 3:03pm

Unfortunately I missed last week's sessions, but I find both of these models (Journalist's method and 6 hats method) really helpful as I think about the powerful questions of good coaching The comments from the others in the blog are helpful to me. I agree with Jessie that the journalist's approach works for me and is a nice affirmation of my natural inclinations. I think this "investigative" approach to coaching can help the clients investigate themselves and can help coaches ask good clarifying questions. I'm intrigued by the 6 hat approach as a tool in coaching cohorts and inviting groups within cohorts to look at shared concerns, priorities or growth areas from 6 different perspectives (set of questions). I want to learn more about Edward De Bono and his approach.