Article by Dr.L.Michael Hall and Mr Shawn Dwyer  

When it comes to doing something right and/or muddling something up, there are many, many more ways to muddle something than there are ways to do something correctly. Mis-use coaching. That’s the way reality is set up. Do you understand why it is that way? Gregory Bateson entertained that question from his daughter in one of the metalogues. On that occasion he offered this explanation. There are lots of ways to mess up your bed, there’s only one basic way that it is properly “made.”

Similarly we can say that it is easier to mess up the Well-Formed Outcome Questions than to ask them correctly. There are many ways to mess them up, and only one or a few ways of asking them correctly. In the following, the proper way to ask the question is in bold. The questions under them are actual attempts at asking the question which I’ve heard.  Some are funny, some are ridiculous, some are redundant, some are boring. While supervising coaching sessions, I have often stopped the coach and asked, “Are you trying to ask question x?”  When I get a yes, I said, “And what is that question?”

If you ask it wrong, you will probably get wrong or at best, unuseful information.

A common problem is losing track of the subject. You begin with one thing and it slowly shifts to something else so that the later questions are on a different subject. That’s failing to hold the frame.


1) What do you want?            

Wrong: What do you want to talk about?  So, what’s up with you these days?

What issue would you like to talk about?  So what’s your problem?

2) What will you see or hear when you get what you want? [For tangible objectives]

Wrong: What does that belief look like?  What will you hear when you reach that level of fitness?  So what will be your emotional state?

3) Why is it important to achieve that? 

Wrong: So, why do you want that?  Why did you do that?  Why are you that way?


4) When do you want to achieve this outcome?

Wrong: When will you start this?  When could you begin?  When does this occur?

5) Where will this goal occur?

Wrong: Where do you want to be a better parent?  When you are at the gym, where do you want to do this? [Redundant]. 

6) With whom will you do this, if anyone?

Wrong: Who is involved in this?  Will they need to sell this to?  Who will your parenting be for?  Who can help you with this?


7) What do you have to do to get what you want?

Wrong: Do you know how to do this?  Can you do that?  How will you reach your goal?

Client says “I don’t know what to do?”  Wrong next question: “Okay, so how do you do X?”  Do you think you can do that?


8) Is this goal within your area of control?  Can you initiate this action and sustain it?

Wrong: Are you powerful enough to do this?  Can you control this?  How much control will you need to do this? 

If given a “no” answer, “Well, would you like to try it anyway?”

9) Can you? Do you have the skill or the capacity for doing this?  If yes, what?                  

Wrong: What skills will you need to do this?

10) Have you ever done this before or something like it before?  If yes, when?

Wrong: When have you done this before?  When have you solved this before?


11) How many things do you have to do?  Are there steps and stages in reaching this goal?

Wrong: How many steps are in your plan? Are you aware that there are 3 steps to X?

12) Do you need or have a plan or strategy?  If yes, how do you best like to plan?           

Wrong: So what’s your plan?  How much of a plan have you got so far?

13) How will you monitor your progress?  What milestones will you set up in your plan?

Wrong: Have you ever monitored a plan?


14) What, if anything, could stop you?

Wrong: What problems do you see with the plan?  When would something stop you?  What will probably stop you?

15) Do you have the external resources?  Do you have the internal resource you need?

Wrong: How many internal or external resources do you have?  How do you feel about those resources?

16) Is it ecological, holistic, and realistic?

Wrong: So it’s good for you to do this?


3) Is it still compelling and attractive?          

Wrong: How compelling is your goal from 0 to 10?

17) Are you going to do this?  Are you ready to make a commitment to this goal?

Wrong: When will you make a decision about this?  How do you feel about that decision?

18) How will you know you have achieved it?  What evidence would convinced you’ve of success?” 

Wrong: How will you know you’re done?  Are we done now?  Can I go home now?

If you are frequently asking these questions and would like to understand how to more effectively communicate, contact Shawn and have a chat on how we can support your best performances

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