Help clients ask better questions

By Jim LaDoux
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 and decide on next faithful steps?

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.


  1. As a coach, when would you use these approaches in your settings?
  2. What else can coaches do to help clients 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.

Sherry Villanueva - February 26th, 2022 at 3:45pm

I like Kate's point about having the client at times ask questions. "If you were coaching someone with the same need as yours, what would your question be to them to help move them forward?"

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.

Jason D. Bland - February 21st, 2022 at 3:23pm

I can appreciate Mike's comments about the journalist questions being more "fact/information oriented". They really do focus on what's happening at the core of the decision making process, ensuring that nothing is overlooked, and I think that's where they derive their power. This is a fantastic framework to ensure groups use their time wisely, especially in planning meetings where there often can be a lot of discussion with little actionable steps. This is a key focus of coaching: identifying next steps, determining how to move, and deciding who can help; all of which are vital to organizations as well.

Brian - February 22nd, 2022 at 2:03pm

I appreciate Jason's response that the journalist approach leads to identifying next steps and how to move. The journalist approach in its simplest approach gets down to the core issue and next steps. I used some of these journalist questions when I wrote Sports articles for my college newspaper. lol. These questions help to shape the bigger story in key words and phrases.

Sherry Villanueva - February 26th, 2022 at 3:43pm

I appreciate Mike's take on use of the "hats" as limiting confusion, repetition and getting off track. It makes each identified category more laser focused.

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.

Mary Eide - February 22nd, 2022 at 3:51pm

William, I completely understand your going to the 'journalist model' first. After all, it seems like a model we have been encouraged to use throughout our school years of writing essays, book reports and research papers. The Who, What, When

Mary Eide - February 22nd, 2022 at 3:54pm

(sorry...must have hit enter again before I was done)

These same 6 questions also are what we are LISTENING/LOOKING FOR when we watch/read the news, are in meetings, and even talking to our children about what happened at school. They seem like natural questions of inquiry that would put our client in a more comfortable position to respond from in our sessions.

Tom Smith - February 23rd, 2022 at 8:54pm

I agree with you Mary. We all have been taught to use the journalist approach. Because of that familiarity, I wonder if it may not be the best approach. The 6 thinking hats offers a different take that might assist persons in expanding their imagination and creativity because it is unfamiliar and fresh.

Sherry Villanueva - February 26th, 2022 at 3:53pm

You may have a point there about familiarity of the journalistic approach being maybe a technique to start with. If there appears a need to help the client consider and expanding the possibilities through more thorough focus, the hats technique would be valuable tool.

Dan - March 10th, 2022 at 8:33pm

Very good insight, Tom.

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.

Nathan Luitjens - February 23rd, 2022 at 11:04am

This is a great insight by Jessie. We are often quick to discount our feelings or think that they shouldn't play a role in decision making (just the facts). And yet, if people are uncomfortable, uneasy, scared, sad, excited or happy, etc. those emotions will play a role in how any steps forward get implemented. Engaging with those emotions can help us see what the facts might not reveal.

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.

Jason D. Bland - February 21st, 2022 at 3:12pm

The second approach is a great tool for group coaching. I can see the power of having people look from one specific vantage point so they can dig in deeper and discover more than just what’s at the surface. To further this approach, I could envision coaches shifting teams multiple times, so that groups can experience several different “hats” and add to the collective thought process. In this way, dynamic and creative solutions will surface.

Mary Eide - February 22nd, 2022 at 3:57pm

Jason, you bring up a good point about possibly going through the process a second time to give people an opportunity to see the project discussion through a different lens/set of questions.

I still wonder how long such a process would take, and is it possible that by assigning certain people particular hats, others could be resentful because they may think the coach doesn't value their input on some questions they place a higher value on?

Brian - February 22nd, 2022 at 1:52pm

I can envision using the "hats" approach at an off-site retreat with church council members as we discuss a new ministry idea. Perhaps we give 1-2 people a different hat and we bring the collective wisdom back to the group after some brainstorming. With the approach I would need to make sure each cluster had the specifics of what their "hat" is. A lot of ideas could be generated this way, but idea recording and follow up will be important.

Julie Gvillo - March 1st, 2023 at 5:42pm

TOTALLY AGREE, Brian! The Six Thinking Hats is a GREAT way to help teams, in particular, work through some new ideas over a full-day or weekend retreat where they can dig in. I believe it *could* be done in shorter spaces of time as well, but I'm absolutely on board with working through significant changes in a different venue with the six hats method.

Mary Eide - February 22nd, 2022 at 3:46pm

I've never heard Edward de Bono’s "6 Thinking Hats" approach before, and admit that my initial reaction was something like: "too hard" "too much to keep track of" and "how long would such a group coaching session go?" But then I started to recognize how many of our church council members ARE these hats...and how powerful it would be to help them realize their voice is NEEDED and VALUED. [Does anyone else have a problem of not enough voices/ideas/concerns shared in the actual council meeting...and not in the parking lot?]

Yes, I could definitely see potential in using this with our council or certain committees that are working on/will hopefully be working plans for kitchen project, returning to 'normal' worship/faith formation, decision making on other upcoming projects/new ministries.

Amelia - February 22nd, 2022 at 4:25pm

Mary, I share the way you first thought about the 6 Hats. Too much prep...too much explanation...too much, so I thought, "I'll stick the the journalist questions. They get to the point and get the job done." I recognize this as my own impatience with process which means I need to lean onto the 6 Hats approach. You are correct in saying that these people are already on the team (in some capacity). This application invites all to participate and focus on one 'color' at a time. Imagine, no more crazy side conversations or rabbit trails! I love the inclusivity and invitation of the 6 Hats. I can see even working the 6 Hats individual coaching to help a client get 'unstuck'. It could be used as "Imagine yourself wearing the white hat...what would you ask yourself?"

Good thoughts!

Paul Backstrom - February 26th, 2022 at 11:48am

As we think about these two methods, I know for myself I am going to do my best to read where the client(s) are at. They might more naturally fall into one or the other method. If they get stuck with a particular method, I would then use the other method to help get them to reexamine where they are at. I think it is good to have three or four different ways to come at a challenge, this way we can help our client(s) reframe how to approach it.

Julie Gvillo - March 1st, 2023 at 5:43pm

Oooooh! I enjoy the "Imagine you are wearing the 'x' hat ... what would you ask yourself?" question!

Nathan Luitjens - February 23rd, 2022 at 10:59am

I can see these approaches being very beneficial with my ministry team. There are several challenges on the horizon, as well as ongoing projects that could use some clarification as we seek to move forward.

In my role in working with congregations in visioning processes, I can see this help people get excited about what they might be doing and also to articulate clearly what the possible next steps can be. What I really like about the six hat method is it balances both the dreaming and envisioning the future with a realism and pragmatism about what is possible, what would need to happen to make the vision a reality, and what potential obstacles might need to be overcome.

Ladd - February 23rd, 2022 at 3:23pm

I like how you brought up articulate. I know personally it can be hard to articulate what I am thinking or feeling at times and this method gives people questions to help articulate what they are thinking and feeling.

Michelle Townsend de Lopez - February 24th, 2022 at 8:49am

Nathan I totally agree and the hats lay out the steps beautifully that would allow for the various stages of visioning and keeping it fluid, so that people don't get stuck in one place for a new group project and yes for things that are already in flux, but may have specific issues being oppositional--using a specific hat for that purpose could effectively elicit more information in a format that is not hostile and allow for what the underlying issue is so it can be addressed via this process in a way that is more informative and equitable for the group.

Becky D'Angelo-Veitch - March 2nd, 2023 at 1:32pm

Well said--I love how every perspective is given voice. you need that balance. A group of dreamers might be so focused on the generative parts of the process that they might not get anything done, a group of finance people might be limited by money worries and so forth. the balance of this model is so useful!

Ladd - February 23rd, 2022 at 3:22pm

I love Edward de Bono's approach. I have done a few coaching sessions with my Children, Youth, and Family team and this would be a great way for people to feel like they have something to offer to the conversation as well as with notes in hand not feeling like they are challenging the topic at hand, but living out their role in the conversation.

Tom Smith - February 23rd, 2022 at 8:49pm

I like the Thinking Hats approach because it adds a visual/symbol for those persons who are more visual oriented learners. The journalist approach is a more right brain approach for analytical thinkers. Both have their place.

I used the journalist approach last spring (though I didn't realize it) with my council when presenting a review of Dave Daubert's "The Hybrid Church." I proposed that the 'why' for our faith community is the mountain top and the whom, what, when and where are signposts pointing the way to the 'why.' I shared that my 'why' is my core conviction that a Christ-centered faith community transforms lives and that lives transformed in this way can transform the world for the better and asked each of them to reflect on their 'why' and we later took turns sharing.

Michelle Townsend de Lopez - February 24th, 2022 at 8:43am

I really got excited about the 6 Thinking Hats for my council and the organizational development work we will be embarking on after Easter. It will allow for some targeted exploration and I can set it up in such a way that for certain topics we are strategically led by different persons as group in these specific areas with the set of questions that makes it more cohesive for the group and big personalities do not get to monopolize the group or time.

I envision the journalist style being more conducive to a small group and definitely 1 to 1 coaching as there are short questions that get to the point and elicit some of the

Paul Backstrom - February 26th, 2022 at 11:44am

Maybe it is because I love journalism, but I am a big fan of the first approach. To be honest I think I am going to bust out some of these questions for our up coming council meetings.

I don't know how I feel about the other approach. One limitation I see is that you need to have six people on the committee or group to use this method. Though you could have a smaller group tackle each part on its own. I might change the language of the hats to something different because for me the hats have a different connotation. I know it sounds silly at first but for whatever reason, I don't like this language because it throws me off to what the actually hat stands for.

Sherry Villanueva - February 26th, 2022 at 3:38pm

I have seen how well this "color coding" or "hat wearing" technique works (even as an elementary school teacher back in the day ). It helps to compartmentalize focus, ideas, functions for more in depth study and development with the end result in bringing each piece of the plan back as a synthesized version of the more general or broad version that they started with. I can see it's value even in an individual client session. While it might seem cumbersome and too much work at the outset, I think using this approach in a situation where there are numerous factors at play, can in the end produce a clearer, cleaner objective and plan moving forward.

Shannon Guse - April 13th, 2023 at 2:01pm

I am doing some year-long visioning and planning next week with colleagues. I am going to color code the entire plan and make sure we are asking each question for each "hat" so our programs have thorough plans! Thank you for highlighting how this can aid in plan development!

Paul Backstrom - March 14th, 2022 at 12:24pm

One of my biggest insights came a week or so ago when Jim was talking about the 6 different hat approach. I was so caught up in doing them all at once, but Jim reminded us that we have the freedom to pick and choose which ones we could use. We could use all of them or one of them at a time. I think that really makes this approach a lot more meaningful for me and allows me to better coach to where the individual or the group is at.

Liz Miller - August 31st, 2022 at 5:23pm

These are dynamic approaches. I can see encouraging an individual client to use the journalist approach if they are feeling stuck or at a halfway point in our work together - it would give them a space to reflect between sessions without the coach having to be present, and might open them up to bring new insights to the next session. It seems like a good checkin tool to make sure their goals are still the most important/urgent ones and that they are moving the direction they want to go.

The hat exercise is a great one for ministry teams. Whether they are thinking of a goal for the year or planning individual programs, I can envision assigning each team member with a different hat color. That also forces people to consider opportunities or problems from a different perspective than they might usually gravitate toward - it gives everyone a clear role rather than organically letting a few voices or perspectives dominate.

Wendy Petochko - September 14th, 2022 at 11:12am

I appreciate learning what the 6 thinking hats are and I could see utilizing them with a client where their temperament is in one very strong quadrant and help them to see another perspective other than their own natural bent. It would be more natural for me to use the journalist approach to asking questions.

Lea Kone - September 18th, 2022 at 8:29am

I think that this is a really helpful exercise. I can envision using it both for individual coaching (asking the client to put on and take off different "hats") and for groups - perhaps asking each participant which hat do they typically feel like they where, and asking them to consider switching "hats" for a session or two to try out different perspectives.

Tom Pietz - October 26th, 2022 at 4:45pm

Very interesting hats and ways to assess particular conversations in group settings. The Yellow Hat speaks to me particularly right now as we prepare for our Fall Stewardship Campaign and prepare goals that would be relevant in 2023. To ask these questions from the Yellow hat perspective, gives us clear ways to speak to people in a positive, forward visioning way. 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?

Kim Boldt - November 14th, 2022 at 6:07pm

I could see Approach 2 to be particularly useful with group coaching. I think it would take more finesse to make it work in individual coaching, unless the topic was quite clear and you could work through these categories sequentially. I could see Approach 1 and 2 working well as homework.

Jeff Smith - November 15th, 2022 at 2:15pm

I could see using these kinds of questions with a church council, a transition task force, a committee, etc. As a pastor, I always like to encourage groups to ask the God questions too, such as "where is God in this?" "What's God's preferred future for us and our ministry?" "What would Jesus have us do in this situation?" etc.

Darren Sutton - March 1st, 2023 at 2:00pm

WHOM are we seeking to serve? What are their needs? Do we offer what they need? -- So good! I feel like I need to use this in day-to-day life, not just when coaching!

I also love the color hats. I see that the general use of this is the coach assigning hats -would there ever be a scenario where a coach would allow team members to choose their own color?

Julie Gvillo - March 1st, 2023 at 5:52pm

I have been planning to use the Six Thinking Hats approach with my Wisdom Circle (the accountability group created for my ministry) as training. My thought for that had been that I would invite people to choose which hat they wanted to wear initially, expecting they would choose one that felt most comfortable to them, and then invite them to pick a different hat -- one that feels the most awkward on their head -- to gain a different perspective from the question-asking viewpoint. Perhaps that is something you might try, Darren?

Becky D'Angelo-Veitch - March 2nd, 2023 at 1:34pm

I could see shuffling hat colors a few times to really flesh out an idea. Perhaps assign, then let people choose the color that they gravitate towards? You'd really have to think about the logistics of this, but I like the thought of giving people the chance to wear a lot of hats, thus adopt different perspectives.

Kim - March 1st, 2023 at 4:56pm

As a visual person, I like the colored hat method as a way to organize for myself different types of questions. In individual sessions, I probably wouldn't talk about the hat, but instead, I'd be able to pull from different "hats" the right type of question for the session. As I continue to become more familiar with different powerful questions, I think I'll even use these colors to sort through all the options as I come up with my own list.

In a group coaching session, I can see the thinking hats method as being really helpful to keep the conversation moving, to help people move out of their comfort zones by assigning "color" that are out of their typical roles, and to make sure all aspects of the problem/goal are being looked at.

Danette - March 1st, 2023 at 5:36pm

1. As a coach, when would you use these approaches in your settings?

In a team or group setting, when the organization is considering a program push or a major culture shift. The color questions are pretty thorough. Depending on the size of the group, it would require time to go through these.

Julie Gvillo - March 1st, 2023 at 6:07pm

Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!! I got SO EXCITED when I saw this blogpost! I LOVE these!!!

So the journalistic questions are also called the "Thomistic questions" in spirituality, based on Thomas Aquinas and his reasoned approach to existential questions. I use Thomistic/journalistic questions ALLLLLL the time. Literally. ALL. THE. TIME. Sermon prep, planning, evaluations, writing. It is not going to be difficult to incorporate them into coaching.

Secondly, the Six Thinking Hats were something I had come across at another time, and have engaged when processing for myself. As I mentioned in reply to Darren, I'm planning to use them to train my Wisdom Circle as a way to give them a new (?) skill but also to help me. I'm SUPER excited about both of these being useful for coaching!

I would use both of them in both individual and team coaching without hesitation, and was already toying with the idea of using them in a coaching cohort I'm leading currently. The journalistic/Thomistic questions are great investigative questions, which is exactly what they are designed to be. They bring reason particularly to someone who is more likely to feel their way through. (A P vs. a J on the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator would benefit from journalistic questions.) The Six Thinking Hats is useful for individuals in helping them think through all the angles vs their natural perspectives alone. This approach would also be useful for teams addressing monumental changes in structure in that it honors all the voices at the table. I particularly appreciated the color/symbolism associations, which I had not seen before. This will help me clarify my thinking when I'm wearing a particular hat.

Another approach that I find tremendously helpful each time I use it with people is the Thinkertoys method by Michael Michalkski. SCAMPER = Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Multiply/Magnify, Put to other use, Eliminate, Reverse/Rearrange. Helping people explore new ways to be creative is one of my favorite things to do! :)

Becky D'Angelo-Veitch - March 2nd, 2023 at 1:28pm

Approach 2 is very cool. I think it would be a fantastic tool for a planning retreat for a committee or a staff. I could see value in assigning hat color in a way that might go against character, such as having the dreamer as a white hat, or the money person be red or green. This feels both practical and really creative.

Charity Starchenko - March 14th, 2023 at 3:40pm

I'd use the journalism style questions in a session that seemed to be flowing well. The 6 Hat questions seem more like they'd function better for teams really mired in a problem and unable to move past a challenge. I feel like they're more basic questions that can help root out the source of a challenge. It helps teams move more deeply among themselves.

I think that coaches can broaden client's perspectives by gently challenging assumptions they have about themselves. Sometimes people hold deeply grained ideas and need to come up against and break through challenging mindsets.

Nicole - March 29th, 2023 at 12:21pm

I really like the first approach. I think I tend to do a similar thing most of the time anyway--I'm mining for information to help them discover what they already know. The hat method seems really hard to hold in my head and still listen well.

Mel Tubb - April 12th, 2023 at 10:38am

I love the idea of using the hat method for teams. I'm wondering if it would be more helpful to let people choose to wear the hat that is the most similar to the way they always show up in group/team or assign hats and give folks a chance to see things in a different way.

Tony Myles - April 13th, 2023 at 2:11am

As a coach, I'd probably use these approaches when I felt like I needed an extra tool. Perhaps with a team coaching environment, this could be especially helpful.

I also think that coaches can expand the mindset of their clients by softly questioning assumptions they hold about themselves, including any long-established beliefs that require confronting.

Shannon Guse - April 13th, 2023 at 1:59pm

Many pieces of the 6 hat approach come easy to me because they revolve around logistics and planning. This is where I thrive! The one hat that I don't wear often enough is the yellow hat. Helping think about the benefits of change or new ideas and promoting those reasonings will completely shift how I program plan.

Many times clients need to step outside of their situation and look in, as if they were viewing the same scenario as an outsider. When asking clients to give advice to someone in a similar situation they seem to make the perspective shift and make it quickly!

Stephanie Vasquez - May 18th, 2023 at 1:40pm

I feel that curiosity plays an important part in formulating questions. The 6 hat approach is useful because it helps cover all aspects of a coaching session. This is a great tool to help the client reach to their own answers and help them move forward their goal.

Matthew May - November 6th, 2023 at 3:36pm

The visual interpretation of the 6 hats seems to be incredibly helpful for clients who like to visualize outcomes. I can see it having a great impact on helping a client identify their topics and facilitate deep questioning into areas they might not have considered before. Many of us probably have a singular hat that we rely on heavily, but what might the other areas have to contribute to our conversation?

Bob Hagel - December 23rd, 2023 at 6:07am

The congregation I am serving is going through a visioning process. The six thinking hats will be a valuable tool in evaluating current programs and ministries, and the future plans and ideas we create. The questions for each color helps frame a program by getting to both the emotions and facts, recognizing that decisions are made using both.