Ask these two questions and you’ll instantly become a better coach


Spoiler alert, the two questions do not include;

  1. “Where are you now?”

  2. “Where do you want to be?”

  3. “How are you going to get there?”

  4. “What is your personal why?”

All great questions - in fact, critical questions when you’re supporting a college student in his or her first semester. Particularly a first generation, low income college student

But, do those four questions cultivate the “non-cognitive skills” students must leverage to push through to graduation when personal doubt, overwhelm, situational and financial stress loom large?  I worry they will not, based on my decade working with students.

If college success coaches could include just two additional questions to their coaching repertoire, which two questions would give them the most bang for their buck?  Which two questions - especially in light of the reality that many students do not engage in coaching as frequently as is beneficial - would have the most significant impact?  

If you only get one meeting, how do you make that meeting the most beneficial in the long term for the student?

Let me backup: that last question is too broad and too deep for this post. However, if there were two questions that may not necessarily overhaul impact, but certainly improve it, here they are;

  1. “Share a time in your life, when something was hard but you saw your way through.  What did you learn about yourself in overcoming that?”

  2. “How will you use this personal awareness when things get tough as a college student?”

These two questions are honestly a teaser, because once they’re asked and a conversation and exploration ensues, it’s all too easy to imagine more questions germinating from them.  Let’s follow this conclusion further....(and I said that I would just give you two...):

  1. “If you saw someone else overcome the obstacle you shared in the way that you did, what words would you use to describe them?”

  2. “What particular challenges do you anticipate will be the toughest for you this semester?”

  3. “When things get hard, what two resources will you leverage as someone who is “resilient” in the face of obstacles, like you’ve demonstrated?”

Now, I chose the word “resilient” in question #3, but please, use their word/s.  Students may offer words like “determined”, “hard-working”, “not afraid to ask for help”, “patient”.... Who knows?  The point is, the words are theirs, and they serve as the first step in forming what needs to be an empowered narrative in the face of what will, for many, be a challenging time in their life.  The more - from the get-go - coaches can ask questions that inform students’ “sense of self” and belief in themselves, the more prepared a student will be in navigating difficult life terrain when - not if - things get hard.

These questions develop critical non-cognitive skills!

Play with this. Experiment.  Embrace that it may be different or a departure from what you typically ask. Know that questions that explore personal identity have the most lasting and profound impact because at the end of the day, when the only conversation students hear is the one in their own head, who they know themselves to be is in charge and steering the ship.  Don’t you want that voice to be as confident, prepared and self-assured as possible?