Is It Inquiry or Leading?

Aug 6, 2021

This article is part of the No Holds Barred weekly column by Ram Ramanathan.

After a classroom coaching demo session, a question asked was, ‘You seem to be interpreting what the client said in a few places in a way that seemed to be leading?’


This is a very important issue. At one level all inquiries are leading. They lead to an answer. In coaching, leading refers to a query that has an answer built-in, suggesting that the client follow that path. So, in a sense, a closed question as well, though not phrased as yes/no. This is not good coaching.

What I did was to repeat what the client said in two different places in a somewhat contradictory fashion, in the manner of showing a mirror. I listened empathetically, observed both verbal and non-verbal cues, noticed and sensed this dissonance, and shared this with the client, inquiring what he is now aware of based on what he said differently, and then explored deeper as to what was going on.

In the first space, the client wished to be a coach, serving the underserved, stating he had fulfilled his needs and his family needs; he now wanted to self actualize, to fulfill his needs. He was energized, passionate in words, in voice, and in body, palpably.

In the second instance a few minutes later, when asked is it then ‘when’ and not ‘if’ about moving from what he was doing to coach, he was silent, thoughtful, and said he talked of a career shift not about giving up his job since he needed to still take care of his family, and that this first priority was to find a work-life integration. 

These two were dissonant views, so, I played this back and asked, ‘What does he “really” wish to do?’ I was re-contracting.

While coaching you would face three client responses generally. First, when whatever the client says reemphasizes a few things repeatedly in line with a stated outcome. There are some words that the client may repeat. The coach should then observe these and inquire first, and then explore deeper. 

Second, the client may say something at ‘seeming’ variance, sometimes verbally, sometimes through facial expression, body and voice tone, for instance saying something quite bitterly, yet with a smile. The coach needs to pick up the dissonance, observe, and share as if showing a mirror. Disconnected dots need to be connected. Sometimes, this leads to what the client ‘really’ needs rather than ‘wants’. This is what I did.

The third possibility is that the client veers off tangentially from whatever has been said and asked. This happens often. Equally, often the coach follows the lead of the client though, what the client says now has no relevance to what he/she said earlier. Pause. Mirror back what was said earlier. Ask, is that still the outcome? If the coach had asked an earlier question relevant to the client’s needs, go back and repeat. Yes, the coach must follow the client, yet, more importantly, the coach needs to establish what the client actually needs and what stops them from moving to those needs. Client centricity is about unconditional positive regard and empathy to serve the client, by observing dissonances and tangentiality. Otherwise, the coach will end up colluding with the client’s self-deception and not be of service. This is tricky and needs deep listening and exploration, not merely superficial inquiry. Don’t stop at noticing, sharing, and inquiring. Explore what your intuition tells you is not being said.

A lot of other questions were answered during the last 3 webinars. Watch the full video below, or on our YouTube Channel.

Coaching Questions You’re Too Afraid To Ask

Questions you are too afraid to ask part-2

Questions on Coaching


If you have a question that you want an answer to, please feel free to fill up this 2-minute survey.

Ram Ramanathan, MCC
Ram Ramanathan, MCC


Ram is the Founder and a Principal at Coacharya. As the resident Master and mentor coach, Ram oversees and conducts all aspects of coaching and training services offered under the Coacharya banner.

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