positive inquiry
ATD Blog

Positive Inquiry Skills: Crafting Vital Coaching Questions

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Photo Credit: Fotolia

There is no greater thing that you can tell someone [than],
"I believe in you, you're good, I'm there for you."
—Coach Krzyzewski, from Time Magazine's America's Best 2001

What do extremely good coaches do? They energize, ask, listen, invite, and equip others to develop themselves and achieve their personal and professional best.

How does it work? Coaching is all about building and sustaining high-quality links. Specifically, the coach energizes the relationship. At the same time, the coachee empowers it. As a result, the link re-energizes the coachee, and thus the coachee’s then able to better figure out, ideate, transform, and deliver.

The coach’s set of skills that can be routinely applied with client, peers, or direct reports is massive. A hefty toolbox will include instruments for setting the stage, bringing forth positive leadership presence, tracking, naming it, playing back and checking-in, as well as giving and receiving constructive feedback.

One of the most important tools is the skill of positive inquiry. Here are some energizing questions (based on the Appreciative Inquiry method) that you can use in your coaching conversations to engage others.


1. Figure out (“Discovery” Stage)

  • What about this topic energizes you?
  • What’s already working well? What are your super-powers?
  • Without being humble, please share a story of a time when you enjoyed some peak experience/performance that made you feel proud and had a particularly positive impact… What’s the big picture? What’s really going on?
  • What one or two things do you wish more of?

2. Ideate (“Dream” Stage)

  • What’s the biggest dream for yourself these days? If you couldn’t fail, what might you do then? What if anything were possible? How might Superman/Mahatma Gandhi/Your Middle School Teacher/Mother Theresa/Martin Luther King, Jr./Marie Curie/James Bond handle this?
  • Describe the future you want to move toward. Please use words, expressions, or images that capture your desired future. What are the forces shaping your own (working) life? You can pick any on Earth.
  • Imagine you’re in a helicopter right now hovering above this issue. What can you see now?
  • Picture it’s 2030, and you are awarded the Top Partner by the CEO for developing an enterprise that’s the best place to work anywhere. What might people notice about you? What part do you play in this story?

3. Transform (“Re-Design” Stage)

  • How would you craft/(re)design your sunnier side of life/future proofed working life?
  • What should be the ideal? What can help you focus and energize your ideas, actions, or behaviors?
  • Who’s likely to back you up? What enablers can you puzzle out?
  • What wows?

4. Execute (“Delivery” Stage)

  • What exactly works?
  • Where do we go from here? How are you already living your dream today?
  • What baby steps will you take right now/today/tomorrow/next week/next month to actually make it happen?
  • How would you like me to hold you accountable?

Please add your own questions to these positive inquiries.

About the Author

Bart Tkaczyk, a Fulbright Scholar at the University of California at Berkeley, is the chief executive officer of Energizers, LLC, a strategic advisory firm. Working across industries worldwide, his executive coaching and management consulting assignments have included projects with AstraZeneca, Cisco Systems, The Estée Lauder Companies, Fluor, HP, Moody’s Analytics, and Oracle. He has published his award-winning research and thought leadership in leading business and strategic management journals in Canada, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the United States, including Arab Investor, Design Management Review, Development and Learning in Organizations, European Business Review, European Financial Review, Global Business and Organizational Excellence, Ivey Business Journal, Leadership Excellence Essentials, Rutgers Business Review, Strategic Change, Strategic HR Review, Talent Development, and the World Financial Review. Contact him at: or follow him on Twitter: @DrBTkaczykMBA.

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