The art of asking the “right” questions

08 Apr 2013 23:30 | Armelle Loghmanian

 The art of asking the “right” questions 

By Alessandra Zocca



Nadine Montens

Certified Business & Personal Coach, Owner at Talent2Be

Nadine, when I read the below sentence by Margaret Wheatley in her book “Leadership and the New Science”, I started wondering how approaches and methods could be correctly applied to the different people or organisations, assuming “… everything depends on context”.

I had the chance to meet you and to appreciate your unique multi-faceted style and competencies, so I thought that it would be great to solicit your comment on this sentence in regard to coaching.
In a quantum world, everything depends on context, on the unique relationships available in the moment. Since relationships are different from place to place and moment to moment, why would we expect that solutions developed in one context would work the same in another?
… We are each required to go down to the dock and begin our individual journeys. The seas need to be crowded with explorers, each of us looking for our answers. We do need to be sharing what we find, but not as models.
” (1)

Yes I totally agree, Alessandra, the context and the moment makes the happening unique! I add and highlight the following: what is important is what happens in a certain context, in that moment and what happens might have a reason…. Understanding this, it can open doors.

Going back to the above sentence, it reminds me of the book by Frédéric Lenoir <<L'âme du monde (the soul of the world)>> (2), I see a link.
This book is a philosophic novel in which the author narrates how seven wise people from around the world – sensing an impending global cataclysm - gather in a monastery in Tibet, in order to transmit the key to the universal wisdom to two young teenagers. They are inspired by what the ancient philosophers used to call the Soul of the world: the benevolent energy that maintains harmony in the universe.
They discuss and provide messages about the essential questions: what is the meaning of my existence? How to succeed with my life and be happy? How to harmonize the demands of my body and those of my soul? How to get to know me and realize my creative potential? How to move from fear to love and contribute to the transformation of the world?
Also in coaching it is crucial to ask the essential questions …

When I was younger, a ”coach” was somebody working in sport … Now we use the word coach for different disciplines (for ex. vocal coach, business or personal coach) and it happens people get confused coaching, counseling and mentoring …
Would you like to explain to us your own views and definition of coaching?

Coaching helps people to produce results (in their lives, private or professional). Through the process of coaching, the ‘client’ (= coachee) focuses on a predefined outcome. “Coaching is the art of facilitating the unleashing of people’s potential to reach important objectives” (Philippe Rosinski – Coaching Accros Cultures).

The “Coach” is a non- protected, nor regulated profession yet, but it should be.
I believe that the required parameters, competencies and qualities as well as a code of ethical conduct for the coaching profession should be specified and harmonized such as the International Coach Federation (ICF) (3) is already doing it. Some of these skills are for example: the ability to ask the right questions, the active listening, co-creative partnership, fully presence, to shield/avoid projections and to refrain from providing solutions, stimulate awareness …

On the other hand it is a responsibility of the coachee to check the references of their potential coaches (such as certification, organizations where they render their services, references etc.).

As a coach, I practice private and/or business related coaching with individuals.

Besides the defined ICF coaching competencies for a coach here are some aspects that are really important to me:
  • For me, being authentic and fully present are very important in coaching. It helps to establish the trust in the relationship, and as you know, trust is a basic required pillar for the success of the coaching;
  • It’s also important to be on the same wavelength as your coachee, and listen actively, with a open mind setting.
  • As a coach, my mission is also to create awareness. So I represent a kind of ‘mirror’ for the coachee : Therefore I ask him/her a lot of open questions, assessing when to go further and when to stop the sharpness, sometimes it’s important to push, other times not.
  • I provide him/her feedback, based on unfolding observations (and not interpretations!). Of course, about the content of the obtained information (what is the resistance,…), but also about the emotional field. I noticed that it is so important to name, recognize, and acknowledge the emotions.
  • Thanks to the different certified training courses followed, I can use different tools and methodologies that suit and are comfortable to my coachees,
  • Of course, as a coach, you sometimes need to be confronting and this might not be very uncomfortable for the coachee. Therefore, it is so important to be in the benevolence (= la bienveillance).
  • As you know, coaching is initiated to achieve a predefined outcome. Therefore at the end of each session, asking what the coachee is taking home is major. (Sometimes the answers are really surprising but always so interesting!). Together we define a plan of actions related to what they have learned during the session, and what can be done as homework for the next session.
  • What about providing tips? It is not the purpose of coaching. It’s not a problem if you share some experience, specific tools, or give some tips; sometimes it really is necessary, but the focus must stay on the coachee, and what’s in for him/her. You’ve been asked to be a coach, not a trainer!
  • I really enjoy coaching, every time, I meet so interesting people, whit their own rich and diverse life experience. I love it to see those persons achieving their own goals, and get things moving. And I learn also a lot from them….
Individual coaching” is one thing; “Relationship and Organisational System Coaching” is another fascinating type of coaching.

Nadine, could provide us with a definition of Relationship and Organisational System Coaching?

No person is an island… Everybody is part of a system (family, business partnership, team, communities, etc.) The systems theory views the individual as one system living within larger systems.

The systems approach looks less at the individual behavior, but more at the interactions between individuals. Relationship Systems Coaching holds that there is more in a relationship than only individuals. Along with the people involved there is the relationship itself, considered as a separate ‘entity’ (= the system). (CRR Global ORSC™ Organization and Relationship Systems Coaching, )
With this type of coaching, the coaching work is done on the relationship itself rather than on the individuals involved in the relationship. Of course, the individual is important, but she/he is seen here as one element of the system.
Regardless of which person initiated the coaching, or who is identified as being ‘the problem’, the Relationship Systems Coach keeps an eye on the whole system, on all the items. He/she will make sure all voices can be heard, even the unpopular ones.
As a relationship coach, my task/mission is to help unfold the relationship agenda, rather than the individuals’ agenda. This is a great approach for organizations, teams, couples, etc.
You could be surprised by the results…

You stated that motivation and beliefs might have impact on individual performance and on one’s own development potential. Would you like to comment further?

Sure, Alessandra. Motivation makes people eager to change their own state of mind and their approach, which – if positively activated - are critical factors for self-development and performance improvement. Non-motivated people can also force themselves to do something and the result can be the same … but what an effort!

Beliefs can bring you up or down, they can limit or push you depending on whether they are positive or negative. Additionally the same beliefs can be positive or negative according to the context or situation. For example, a manager has the true belief he is very competent, and he believes he is the best judge of the work of his team. So he needs to control the work of his team.
In principle this control is ok, but if the manager tries 100% control of the team, then this becomes limiting and might block the other tasks the manager is responsible for, or might cause the manager to burn themselves out.

What inspired you to become a coach? What is your professional background?

Since I was young I always have been interested in the human being and the sense of life, meaning why are we here, what is the purpose? Of course, these are existential questions, and will we one day have an answer on those?
During my professional experience, I noticed a lot of people came to me, asking feedback, or to help them reflect on things. I realized I enjoyed it a lot, and it seemed to help them… The inner vocation to become a coach was very strong and I could perfectly recognize myself in this profession. At the same time, I wanted to work on my own. My professional HR life started in recruitment and selection, and meanwhile, it developed towards the assessment/ development centres expertise (evaluation of competencies).
I felt that assessing only was not enough for me. I provided my client a picture about his/her strengths and points to develop, but I couldn’t help them further with it. So I thought I had an opportunity here to go for a new challenge! I started my own company. At the same time, I started my certification as a coach. I’m convinced it is important to follow a training recognized by the profession as coaching has a significant impact on people. We cannot afford to do whatever we want, it is important to have a methodology, a structure on which to rely. Finally, it is also essential as a coach to know your limits and where your job as coach ends.

So I attended Accredited Coach Training Programs (ACTP) which includes among other, a minimum of 125 hours of coach-specific training and education, a final exam around all the Core Competencies and the Code of Ethics required by the International Coach Federation, and gained the certification,
And the learning process never stops… the importance of the required continuous training is also what I love about being a coach.
After my certification I worked as a coach in various organizations (Administration, Chemicals, Distribution , Luxury goods, Finance, Real Estate, Surgical world,….)
It has not been easy to become an entrepreneur but I knew inside me it was the right way forward and now I am happy about my choice. For me it is important that I get pleasure and joy from my work, that I can share with others and that I can keep learning.

Once you mentioned to me that you had a serious accident and you had to go through a complex rehabilitation. What helped you to overcome such a tragic event?

Yes, I was violently hit by a truck and I ended up with a severe cerebral edema, which affected my short-term memory for a long period. This accident required hospitalization and about one year recovering time frame.
I had also to make an important choice between two possible therapy methods, one recommending six months of full recovery and the second only three weeks and then go back to work: I chose the latter … And today I’m so happy to have made that choice. My doctor gave me a very clear image about the pro’s and contra’s about the 2 approaches. And it is not because it is difficult that is insurmountable.
The major problem during my rehabilitation was that I had to write down everything in order to be able to remember things; this was very tiring and discouraging. I still do not remember what moved me forward every single day! I only remember that I had to swallow 16 tablets a day and one day I said to myself <<stop !>> … As you can see, I am alive and kicking!
But it forced me to work differently, and that brought me interesting awareness...

Did you get any positive lesson from this hard experience?

Yes ! The fatigue, the side effects of medication, the lost of immediate and short term memory made it impossible for me to go on as I used to. I had to see life through other glasses… I started to observe things from different perspectives, and it gave me so diverse, interesting and meaningful information.

Observing what’s happening to you, how you deal with it not only physically, but also emotionally and mentally provides you really enriching information about your own limits, but mostly, it reminds you about what’s essential for yourself.

The other lesson I learned is acceptance. Accepting what happens helps you to get through it. Easy to say you will reply me, but trust me, when you succeed in it, it is a real bonus you get!

Short Biography

Nadine Montens is a Senior HR consultant/coach/trainer with almost 15 years of experience.
Her areas of expertise include an extensive experience in Human Resources: performance appraisal, executive assessment and coaching, 360 feedback, training, and career counseling.
She has designed and delivered assessment & development centers, and gained experience as a coach in a variety of professional environments (including the banking, the pharmaceutical and public sector).

She provides specific assistance custom-made to the needs of the client that is aimed at achieving a specific goal and fostering ownership of the change.
Nadine works both with individual clients and organizations to help them gain a better awareness of their skills and stretch their development potential.

Contact Details: 
Nadine Montens
Certified Business & Personal Coach
HR Expertise. Coaching. Training
email :

T : +32 475.85.58.21

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