5 phrases to use when coaching

By Jim LaDoux
Good coaching is shaped by one's ability to ask good questions. Effective coaches draw out a client's wisdom and call forth new possibilities.  I track which questions and phrases that I use in coaching situations and note which ones seem to work particularly well. Five of my favorites include:

1  |  Tell  me  your  options.

This statement always leads to new awareness and exploration of options that have not been previously considered. A similar statement I use is 'What else have you considered?"  These statements empower people to be more solution-oriented and to find ways to address ways to address their greatest challenges.  It moves clients beyond choosing the easiest option or one that has been used in the past.

2  |  Could  you  unpack  that  for  me?

This statement, similar to "tell me more," is great for helping clients clarify plans and add more details to what they've been thinking about. It sheds wisdom on one's assumptions and approaches along with insights about what they're thinking and feeling. This statement provides the backstory behind the situations people are experiencing.

3  |  Help  me  understand.  How  did  you  choose . . .?

This is a good statement to use when you’re trying to understand the logic behind a client's ideas, thoughts, or actions. It often sheds light on one's values and motivations. It also helps coaches confirm whether or not they are accurately tracking what clients are seeking to communicate.

4  |  Is  there  a  reason . . .?

This phrase is very similar to "help me understand" and I use it to gain greater understanding of a client's decision-making process and the criteria for selecting one option over another.  It's much more effective than asking "Why . . . ?"  Why questions sound accusatory and may result in clients becoming defensive or defending a position that may not be in their best interest.

5  |  What's  your  gut  telling  you?

This phrase forces people to tap into their feelings and see situations from new perspectives. It helps clients name what angers or energizes them, what brings them joy or delight, and help them validate some of the things they are yearning for in life and ministry yet can't adequately describe from a rational perspective.
This phrase forces people to tap into their feelings and see situations from new perspectives. It helps clients name what angers or energizes them, what brings them joy or delight, and help them validate some of the things they are yearning for in life and ministry yet can't adequately describe from a rational perspective.


  1. Which “coaching phrases” have you found helpful?
  2. Which phrases would make up your "top five" list?
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Mike Marsh - March 18th, 2021 at 8:02am

Other coaching phrases:

1. How is your life of prayer?

2. What do you believe about _____?

3. Make up a story about _____.

4. What are the benefits/risks of _____?

5. What scares you about _____?

6. What would happen if _____?

7. And then what?

Top five:

1. What other ways might you _____?

2. What does it look/feel like to _____? What would it look/feel like to not _____?

3. What are you learning about yourself?

4. Tell me more about that.

5. What keeps you from _____?

Julie Gvillo - February 27th, 2023 at 3:57pm

I very much appreciate #2: "What do you believe about ______?" What a person believes about the situation, another person, or themselves can have a significant impact on how they process what is doable and what is not. Thank you for sharing this.

Kate Dalton - March 19th, 2021 at 8:50am

What is preventing you from ....?

What is your struggle?

How does that feel?

What are you hoping for? Tell me about what life looks like when you solve/achieve ...

I don't really have a top 5 list. My approach to coaching is to stay present to the person and respond in the moment rather than trying to pull from a list that I've created. That being said, I'm sure that over time I'll develop patterns and top 5's in my coaching, but right now I'm not finding the idea of question lists to be a good approach for my coaching.

Jessie Bazan - March 22nd, 2021 at 10:27am

Some coaching phrases I've found helpful include:

- Tell me more about ...

- Imagine yourself doing ...

- That seems important to you ...

- I noticed X reaction when you talked about Y ...

Nathan Luitjens - February 23rd, 2022 at 12:12pm

I am really interested in that last statement. I think observing body language and mirroring that back to the person has the potential to be extremely powerful. Sometimes we may not even notice when we are having a physical reaction, or we choose not to notice it, and this could be a very powerful tool for helping people recognize that something is going on in them.

Dan - March 10th, 2022 at 8:38pm

Very good insight, Nathan. The last statement from Jessie above has the potential to be a very powerful tool especially if the client does not to be aware of their non-verbal response. Will need to keep this in mind.

Mary Eide - March 6th, 2022 at 5:08pm

Jessie, I appreciate how your response isn't 5 questions...but 5 Complete this sentence. This obviously avoids any yes/no answers, and it also allows them the freedom to expend on your thought. Like Nathan, I was struck by the last statement. I've been 'caught' in not controlling my non-verbal responses, which have unfortunately reflected my negative response to the person speaking to me. This has immediately eliminated any opportunity for me to ask clarifying questions and has put the other person on the defense. Such situations have taught me the importance of being aware of non-verbal cues and of how certain people 'press our buttons'.

Saeed Richardson - March 24th, 2021 at 12:53pm

* Where is your voice in this situation?

* Who has (the most) power in this situation?

* What would you do if you were on the other side of the situation?

* If you had all the time and all the resources what would you do?

* What brings you joy and lifts your soul?

* Where do you

Amelia - March 9th, 2022 at 12:48pm

Saeed, I am drawn to two questions in particular:

1. Who has the most power?

2. What brings you joy and lifts your soul?

I can see the first being very powerful if a client is stuck in a victim mode or feels what I call "trapped". Powerful in that the question can lead to further questions and in the end perhaps the client coming to the truth that they do have power.

The second question I ask often and I find it surprising how often people/clients respond, "I don't know, I haven't thought about it." Then the follow up questions happens which can help illumine a new perspective or evoke a new awareness.

Thanks for sharing!

Shannon Guse - February 20th, 2023 at 7:25am

"Where is your voice in this situation?" is such a powerful question for the client to help them imagine how they can use their voice/power to implement change. I also use a similar question to "What brings you joy?" I believe that when clients recognize the things that make them come alive or fill them with positive energy, they begin to move in those directions.

Kim - February 28th, 2023 at 9:19am

I really appreciate the questions about voice and power. They name what are often the biggest obstacles to any situation, but are rarely openly discussed. I can see how they would shift the conversation and provide power and voice to your client. I also really love the joy question - what lifts your soul is something we don't give enough time to consider. I will be adding these to my lists. thank you.

Bill - April 24th, 2021 at 1:36pm

Other coaching phrases.....

1. How do you see God in all of this?

2. What question do you think I should ask you?

3. What is life-giving right now?

4. Where is your heart leading you at this moment?

5. If you had all the power in the world how would your life change?

Mary Eide - March 6th, 2022 at 5:11pm

Bill, Your questions are so deep and yet I can definitely how they allow the client to know you are invested in knowing what is truly important to them. Allowing them to state this, offers them the opportunity to better know their deepest values which best will lead them forward in a more authentic manner.

Amelia - March 9th, 2022 at 12:51pm

I agree with Mary. The questions are deep. I am drawn to the question "What question do you think I should ask you?" This really gets at the idea that the client is the expert! Often times I wonder if others are just waiting to be asked the question they are afraid to ask of themselves. I can see how this question could be transformational. I will put this in my bag of questions.

Dan - March 10th, 2022 at 8:41pm

Bill, these questions are profoundly evocative. I am adding the first three to my master questions list. Thanks for sharing.

Julie Gvillo - February 27th, 2023 at 4:02pm

I particularly appreciate the question about what is life-giving. People need to be reminded to look for the things that bring them joy, and if they can't find them, that itself can be a catalyst for change!

Carl Horton - April 25th, 2021 at 11:55am

Questions I like:

If you could wave a magic wand, what would you have happen?

One a scale of 1-10, how invested/satisfied/committed are you?

What don't you know that you don't know?

My top 5:

Tell me more?

What is a first step?

What would happen if you did/didn't do that?

Julie Gvillo - February 27th, 2023 at 4:03pm

"What don't you know that you don't know?" THAT'S a pause-and-ponder question, if ever I heard one!!! I'm taking that, APCE husband. ;)

Tom Smith - February 22nd, 2022 at 7:10pm

1. What other resources (persons, possessions, etc...) could you call on?

2. What are you passionate about?

3. What's the one thing you need to do right now?

4. Name some of the positives in this situation...

5. What happens if you do nothing?

Ladd - March 24th, 2022 at 2:02pm

I love the question, what happens if you do nothing. It opens the client to see possible assumption that they have not realized they might have in the back of their mind.

Nathan Luitjens - February 23rd, 2022 at 12:07pm

These are great phrases and invite really interesting ways of thinking that I had not considered before. For me the phrases that really stick out are those that invite people to do some dreaming. "Paint a picture of your best future." "Say more about ..." "Where would you like to be?" "Are there other options?" When you envision the future, what does it look like?"

I am beginning to see that there are many ways to get under the surface and help folks think more creatively and honestly about what they want and how they might get there. I wonder if sometimes having several different phrases that ask the same question might be helpful since some clients might connect better different language.

Tom Smith - February 23rd, 2022 at 9:00pm

I agree with you Nathan that having a variety of questions available gives the coach options especially when a first attempt does not resonate with a particular client. I personally like the idea of variety-I'm still trying to get my 'go-to' questions down, but I can imagine for my own style needing variety over the years to stay fresh and engaged.

Dan - March 10th, 2022 at 8:44pm

Nathan, I too am drawn to questions that invite folks to do some dreaming and imagining. Can be very powerful.

Mary Eide - March 6th, 2022 at 4:49pm

Through our class demonstrations and triad practice session I've been BOTH amazed at the revelations that arise out of the client when right questions have been asked, and how the coach's listening skills allowed them to ask questions which seem to fall in step with the client's steps they take in response to the clients lead.

I feel to 'green' to come up with a Top 5 List already, so I'll give my best stab at the request.


Mary Eide - March 6th, 2022 at 5:02pm

Sorry about the split response...must have (once again) hit the 'enter' key before I was done.

1) Help me better understand your response to X's words/actions?

2) What is another way to express you idea?

3) What would feel like a good ending to this situation?

4) What may prevent you from taking the next step?

5) What advice would you give me, if you were the coach?

Amelia - March 9th, 2022 at 3:15pm

I'm not sure I have a "top 5", especially after reading the richness of other's answers. One question that has been posed to me in being coached is: Where is the truth in what you just said? follow up, what is not true of the situation?

1. What is true? What is not?

2. If you had the power in this situation what would you do?

3. What question do you think I need to ask you? (love this one so I adopted it)

4. What is energizing to you about __________? Flip side, what is draining your energy?

5. How have you experienced God's grace in this situation?

Jason D. Bland - March 9th, 2022 at 3:45pm


I really appreciate the idea of digging into truth, not just feelings. Which is why I like your first two questions: What is true and what isn't?. Also, as we dig into a client's preferred future potential it's important to tap into what energizes them, so your question about what brings energy is spot on.

Shannon Guse - February 20th, 2023 at 7:28am

"What is true? What is not?" can help the client recognize when they are telling themselves a different story than what is actually occurring. We all can lean into negative self talk and self blame when other forces are at play in situations. Asking this question and helping clients name what is truly occurring in their life/job/relationship, can help them see a new solution and next step.

Amelia - March 9th, 2022 at 3:08pm

I agree with Mary. The questions are deep. I am drawn to the question "What question do you think I should ask you?" This really gets at the idea that the client is the expert! Often times I wonder if others are just waiting to be asked the question they are afraid to ask of themselves. I can see how this question could be transformational. I will put this in my bag of questions.

Brian Hooper - March 29th, 2022 at 2:29pm

That is a powerful question Amelia. I am curious if that question might actually stump the coachee. However, I do think this question can lead to deeper thinking and evoke some new awareness.

Jason D. Bland - March 9th, 2022 at 3:43pm

Most questions I ask are typically intuitive and in the moment, but I like the idea of having some additional key questions or phrases that could be set aside for quick interjections. For example, “how were you able to tackle ____,” “how did it feel when _____ happened,” “what are you feeling now,” or “what’s the plan.” However, I think these are only applicable in situations that call for this type of response.

This question requires some additional brainstorming to develop my thinking and construct some positive phrases that help get to the heart of the issue, something that will also take time and experience to further develop.

Ladd - March 24th, 2022 at 2:00pm

Possible questions.

In all you said what do you hear yourself saying?

How does what you just said make you feel?

What gets you excited in what you just said?

What doesn’t sit with you well in what you just said?

Brian Hooper - March 29th, 2022 at 2:33pm

1. What would be the benefit if oyu accomplish this goal?

2. What happens if you take no action?

3. If you looked into a magical crystal ball, what would the future look like?

4. What is your preferred future?

5. Where is God in this?

Jeff - August 29th, 2022 at 8:37pm

I think these 5 are good. Mine might swap out or add:

1. Where do you see God at work in this?

2. What might be your next most faithful step towards your goal/desire?

3. What mindset limits are keeping you from moving forward?

Wendy Petrochko - August 30th, 2022 at 12:08pm

I like the question, is there a reason... instead of using just why? I have a memory from my childhood when an adult asked me my name and I answered Wendy, why... and then the adult said, Wendy Why, I would like to speak to your parent. This woman was not happy with me and my why question became my last name. So, why does come off accusatory.

My top 5

Where does that land in your heart?

Tell me more

What else have you thought about?

What one thing can you do to move forward?

How is God leading you in this?

Liz Miller - August 31st, 2022 at 11:47am

These are great questions - I like how open they are invite someone to go deeper. I am still building my list but gravitate towards phrases like: paint me a picture . Say more about that. Who will you invite to hold you accountable?

Lea Kone - September 12th, 2022 at 12:37pm

A few questions that I find myself using are:

What other ideas do you have?

When did you first notice this concern?

What would you like to do?

What is stopping you?

Wendy Petrochko - September 14th, 2022 at 10:56am

Other coaching phrases ... risk/rewards, other ways to accomplish goals, seeking to understand or be understood, most important to you, and how do you see God in this.

Kim Boldt - November 14th, 2022 at 5:56pm

Top Five:

1. What do you believe should happen?

2. What was that like for you?

3. What might you learn from this situation?

4. What experiment could you do this week to test your idea(s)?

5. Who are you listening to?

Wendy Petrochko - November 28th, 2022 at 3:53pm

1. Tell me more

2. Expand on that thought

3. Other possibilities

4. If there were endless amounts of resources then what could be

5. Thoughts on God's guidance

Shannon Guse - February 20th, 2023 at 7:22am

The coaching phrase I find most helpful is asking "If there were no roadblocks, what would the outcome look like?" This allows clients to not get hung up on the things that are in their way and they can begin to see where they want to be.

My top five list of questions includes:

If you do nothing/if nothing changes, what happens?

What is the best possible outcome if you make this change?

What is keeping you from taking this step? and/or Is the new outcome worth the risk?

When is the last time you felt (insert desired emotion)? What were the circumstances? What were you doing?

What gives you life or gives you energy?

Darren Sutton - February 27th, 2023 at 3:03pm

Ooooh - 'what's your gut telling you?' I love that! I'm also terrified of it! As a recovering advice-giver, I wonder if I'd be able to refrain from saying 'Your gut is dumb - let me tell you what it SHOULD be telling you.' :)

Julie Gvillo - February 27th, 2023 at 3:42pm

ROFLOL, Darren!

Julie Gvillo - February 27th, 2023 at 3:54pm

The coaching phrases I have found most helpful are:

*Tell me more.

*I heard you say "x," ...

*Help me understand.

Top 5 Questions:

*How is it with your soul today?

*Where do you sense God's leading?

*If there were no obstacles, what would you do?

*What needs to be eliminated from this equation to make it work? (and the follow up is:) What supporting structures need to be reversed or rearranged in order to let it go?

*What is holding you back from achieving this?

Danette Matty - February 27th, 2023 at 5:04pm

I've appreciated when someone asked me, "What's your gut telling you?" One of the most empowering things a coworker whose opinion I respected, would occasionally say, "Trust your instincts on this."

Becky D'Angelo-Veitch - February 28th, 2023 at 8:47am

I really liked the format of this post--especially looking at the highlighted questions as different ways of asking some of the 'old standards". Great food for thought.

Thinking of my favorites, I would say that I have questions I use a lot ("What would that look like?" is a big one for me), and questions that I keep on a list that I use less often. On my list:

-What is the leap of faith you need to take?

-What outcome would be ideal?

-What would happen if you did nothing/What is the cost of doing nothing?

-What roadblocks to you expect?

-What could be a different approach?

Kim - February 28th, 2023 at 9:33am

Over the last year, I have been compiling a list of powerful questions whenever I hear them. I have read through the resources pages multiple times trying to become more familiar with all the great options presented. However, as a new coach, I know right now my focus needs to be on staying fully present with the client and not thinking too far ahead. I appreciate the simplicity of the tell me your options, help me understand, what would that look like. They can apply to most situations and allow me to actively listen and respond to what the client is saying without subconsciously going through my awesome list of questions to find the best one. I know with time and practice, the questions will be come more natural as I find ones that are meaningful and impactful.

I like that Jim said he keeps a running list and reviews effectiveness after each session. That's a great way to reflect on how the session went and continue to learn as a coach.

Stephanie V - March 16th, 2023 at 6:07pm

Coaching phrases that have to do with comparison (this vs. that) help clients reach their true goal, or it offers them more clarity on what it is that they want to do.

I sense a lot of emotions in the statement you just said, explain to me what is that about?

How would you grow with this opportunity?

Why is it important to you to achieve this goal?

Who can be the person you can rely on to help you to achieve...?

Are you focus on this issue? or something else came up?

Nicole - March 29th, 2023 at 12:19pm

"Tell me more..."

"How does that feel in your body?"

"What's the fear?"

Charity Cuellar - April 3rd, 2023 at 12:24pm

So I tend to keep the questions nearby, but respond in the moment rather than pull from that. I like to ask people to distinguish between options or to weight the importance of one thing or another. I work with a lot of people evaluating choices for their future, I,e. jobs, changes, etc, and I find that helping them weigh them and talking about why they weigh them that way helps them find new insight and take steps to move forward.

Questions I like:

Which one makes you happier?

Which is more important?

What do all these options have in common?

What's the most life giving option?

Mel - April 6th, 2023 at 1:57pm

Which “coaching phrases” have you found helpful?

Which phrases would make up your "top five" list?

1. Could you tell a different story about this?

2. Magic wand questions generally.

3. On a scale from 1-10 how much of this is about your perfectionism?

4. What gives you energy?

5. What are you learning and accepting about yourself at present?

Tony Myles - April 13th, 2023 at 2:07am

The “coaching phrases” I like have to do with tapping into motive. So something like, "What are you most afraid of with that?" or "What energizes you on that?" are key.

My top five would be...

1) What question would a future you ask yourself now?

2) What brought you joy recently?

3) Who has power in this situation?

4) Who are you listening to?

5) What is your gut telling you? Why?

Matthew May - November 6th, 2023 at 3:33pm

I think Jim's questions have been helpful tools to start my journey. I've added:

1) So, I'm hearing , is that what you are hearing yourself say?

2) What obstacle prevents ________?

Bob Hagel - December 23rd, 2023 at 5:23am

I really like "Is there a reason....?" I have often wanted to ask "Why do you think or feel...?" but realize that it sounds like a challenge or accusation and could shut the conversation down. So the question I ask is either too long or over explained.

I don't have enough experience in coaching to know what some of my favortie questions are yet.

In the past I have asked

What has worked in the past? What hasn't worked?

What else might your try?

If you do that, what do you think the outcomes will be? for you, for others.

Having a few go to questoins will be helpful when struggling with what to say or where to go.