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How to Cultivate more Curiosity as a Coach

June 05, 20236 min read

Curiosity is an essential quality for coaches. In fact, it’s one of your most important tools.

When we’re curious, we naturally open the coaching conversation up to creativity, insights, shifts and new ways of thinking. Curiosity enables you as the coach to explore new ideas with your clients but also to deepen your understanding of who they are, and how you can best serve them in that moment.

When we think about what may be preventing us from being curious, one main reason comes to mind. We are attached to the outcome and want to steer the client down our way of thinking. This is not true coaching.

Curiosity is being comfortable in the unknown and what may come as a result of our questions. It’s about letting go of the narrative, letting go of the need to know or to problem solve.

When you start to get more curious in your coaching, you’ll naturally simplify your coaching, be more succinct and keep the session a lot more simplified. You’ll be inviting the client to explore their own inner wisdom and as a result they’ll feel more empowered and generate the solutions to their challenges. That’s the power of coaching.

In turn, supporting your client to develop their own curiosity will certainly support your work, and their growth. It allows you to “dance in the moment” with them, and helps the session flow.

The Masterful Coach | Coaching Supervision & ICF Mentor Coaching | United Kingdom & EMEA

Here are 6 ways you can start to cultivate your curiosity:

Ask Powerful Questions

Asking powerful questions is a cornerstone of effective coaching, and curiosity fuels this process. A curious coach seeks to understand their coachee deeply and uncovers the underlying motivations, beliefs, and values that shape their perspectives and actions. By asking thought-provoking questions, coaches encourage their coachees to reflect, gain clarity, and tap into their own curiosity. Powerful questions challenge assumptions, broaden horizons, and stimulate creative thinking.

When we ask questions, we do so from a place of genuine curiosity, not information gathering. We’re not playing the role of expert/mentor, and when we ask about the details and the story, we’re taking on that role whether consciously or not. If we are looking for information, we are coaching the story, not the person. 

When you’re asking questions out of genuine curiosity, you’re also detaching yourself from the outcome of the conversation. It’s a great idea to have a bank of questions that are aimed at encouraging curiosity from your clients. As we engage with our coachees, we can offer space for inquiry and discovery with open generative questions rather than assumptions or 'knowing'.

Being nosy and being curious are too different things. Nosy is asking more about the details and the story for our own agenda. This can easily lead us into judgement, and a place of believing that we know what is best for the client, when we don’t. Being curious instead of being nosy, is questioning more about the meaning or value the client is placing on their situation for the benefit of the client and to evoke their own awareness.

Lastly, don’t rush into asking questions, really listen to what the client is saying and what question they need you to ask them.

Practice asking questions that start off in the following way:
“what if…?”
“I wonder …”
“I wonder whether …”
“How might you…?”
“Say more about that…”
“What is it like to …”
“How do you see …”

Practice Active Listening

Active listening is a skill that complements curiosity in coaching. By fully engaging in the coaching conversation and listening attentively to the coachee's words, tone, and body language, coaches demonstrate genuine curiosity and respect for their coachee's experience. Active listening allows coaches to pick up on subtle cues, identify underlying emotions, and dig deeper into the coachee's narrative. It creates a safe space for open dialogue and promotes trust, enabling the coachee to explore their thoughts and feelings freely.

Curiosity comes in alot when we think of the ICF Core Competency 5 “Maintains Presence”. When we are able to be comfortable in the space of not knowing, we are open and flexible, then we’re naturally more curious. Staying curious keeps us staying present because we’re having to listen more actively.

Embrace the Beginner's Mindset

One of the fundamental aspects of curiosity is adopting a beginner's mindset. As a coach, it is crucial to approach each coaching session with a sense of openness, non-judgment, and a willingness to learn. By setting aside preconceived notions and assumptions, coaches create space for exploration and discovery. Embracing the beginner's mindset allows them to ask insightful questions, seek new perspectives, and uncover hidden insights.

Cultivate a Sense of Wonder

To nurture curiosity, coaches can cultivate a sense of wonder. This involves encouraging their coachees to approach situations with a curious and open mindset. By inviting exploration, experimentation, and a willingness to embrace uncertainty, coaches inspire their coachees to discover new possibilities and perspectives. Encouraging a sense of wonder invites curiosity-driven conversations, where the coachee feels encouraged to delve into uncharted territories and challenge their own limitations.

Start to cultivate a sense of wonder in your real life first, and then take it to your coaching sessions. 

Francesca Gino has a wonderful activity to spend time a few times a week to build the habit of curiosity by reflecting on the following questions:

  • "What is one topic or activity I am curious about today?" and "What is one thing I usually take for granted that I want to ask about?"

  • Then identify how you'll approach your work that day with these questions in mind.

  • Finally, make sure you ask a few 'Why questions' as you engage in your work throughout the day.

Foster a Learning Culture

Creating a learning culture within the coaching relationship is paramount to developing curiosity. Coaches can foster an environment that values growth, continuous learning, and personal development. By sharing resources, recommending books, articles, or workshops, coaches encourage their coachees to expand their knowledge and explore new ideas. A learning culture allows both coach and coachee to be curious together, engaging in joint discovery and mutual exploration.

Be curious about being curious. Embrace your inner child like playfulness and wonder. Then, by modeling curiosity and inquisitiveness for your coachee, you help them embrace their inner child's wonder and curiosity!

Thomas Krapu has a great exercise to build on curiosity.

Meditate on what it means to be curious. Consider the dictionary definition of curiosity:

Curiosity: (noun) a strong desire to know or learn something.

Ask yourself, what do I need to be fully curious. What is getting in the way of my being fully curious with my clients.

In reviewing your coaching process look for those moments when you are most curious and the impact it has on your coaching client and the coaching process. Identify where you stop being curious. Explore what is happening within you at those moments. What are you substituting for curiosity? What do you need to trust to allow yourself to be fully and completely curious?

Reflect and Evolve

Lastly, self-reflection and personal growth are essential for coaches to develop and sustain curiosity. Coaches should regularly examine their own coaching practices, identifying areas where they can enhance their curiosity and refine their questioning skills. Reflecting on coaching experiences, seeking feedback, and engaging in ongoing professional development contribute to the coach's ability to continuously evolve and cultivate curiosity as a foundational element of their coaching approach.

Curiosity serves as a catalyst for transformational coaching. By embracing a beginner's mindset, asking powerful questions, practicing active listening, cultivating wonder, fostering a learning culture, and engaging in self-reflection, coaches can develop and enhance their curiosity. The journey towards becoming a more curious coach is an ongoing process, requiring dedication and practice.

The Masterful Coach | Coaching Supervision & ICF Mentor Coaching | United Kingdom & EMEA
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Melissa Janse van Rensburg

Coach Supervisor and ICF Mentor Coach helping coaches build confidence, courage and competency while raising their consciousness and curiosity to create lasting results with their clients.

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