The Best Coaching Question in the World

question mark with arrow up stairs to a lightbulb signifying coaching and improvement
Michael Bungay Stanier Photo
Founder/Senior Partner
Box of Crayons

3 minutes

‘And what else?’

If I were to give unsolicited advice to anyone who wants to be a better coach, the best thing I could tell them, ironically enough, is that they ought to give less advice and ask more questions.

That’s my coaching mantra in a nutshell. Say less, ask more.

And if I had to narrow in and offer the best coaching question in the world, it would be the AWE question: And what else?

These three words are so simple, but you’d be surprised at their effect. Asking “And what else?” keeps you quiet (thereby providing less advice) and encourages your employee to come up with more—more ideas, more (and hopefully better) possibilities and options. Better options influence better decisions, and better decisions lead to greater success. The AWE question works as a boost in most coaching conversations.

As I mentioned, the real key to being an effective coach is asking questions. That’s not to say there is no room for advice, but if you sit back quietly and ask questions instead of immediately jumping in with answers, you’ll likely receive better responses.

We’re quick to jump in and help. Asking “And what else?” helps break that cycle. It’s the easiest way for you to stay lazy but curious and have a powerful impact. Having said all that, knowing the question and knowing when and how to use it are two different things.

Don’t ask it for the sake of asking. When you ask the AWE question, ask it with genuine interest and curiosity. Listen carefully to the answers, because they will tell you what your employee is thinking.

Ask it again. Generally, the first answer we get when we ask the AWE question isn’t the best. That means that asking it again will generate more answers, ideas and options. Leaders tend to not ask this question enough. Aim to ask it at least twice. I usually ask it three times, and rarely more than five.

Don’t overdo it. Recognize success—eventually, there will be nothing else to discuss. If there is nothing left to dissect, move on. Reaching the end is a good thing!

Know when to move on. If you feel like you’re losing steam in a conversation, wrap it up with a variation of the AWE question. Asking something like “Is there anything else?” offers an end to the conversation while leaving room for discussion if your employee needs it.

The best thing about the AWE question is that it creates more possibilities and options, with little effort. Having options is helpful, but keep in mind that having lots and lots of options isn’t always best.

Your goal in asking “And what else?” isn’t to generate loads of options—it’s to find out what your colleague has already thought up, and to keep you from jumping in with advice.

Michael Bungay Stanier is author of The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever, Michael Bungay Stanier is the senior partner and founder of Box of Crayons, a company that helps organizations do less good work and more great work. It is best known for its coaching programs, which give busy managers practical tools to coach in 10 minutes or less. Download free chapters of his latest book here.

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