“This is such a great question! It is much too good for me to answer it! What do you think? What do the others think?” is what I often hear myself say in coaching classes. Observing my own teaching style in recorded sessions, I think I discovered when I want to give an answer to a question and when it makes more sense for the students to think about it themselves.

Years ago, I learned a very nice metaphorical distinction from Peter Szabo and Daniel Meier from solutionsurfers: there are questions which are like seeds and questions which are like empty water glasses.

The water glass questions are questions that can be answered by a simple information that the person asking the question is missing. For example:

  • “What is the ICF core competency number three?”
  • “Who founded Solution Focused coaching?”
  • “What is the difference between radical constructivism and social constructionism?” (Ok, I don’t get this question very often, but boy, do I wish…)

The water glass is empty — water is missing. You pour it in, the water glass is full, everything is fine. Information is missing, information is given, everything is fine.

Seed questions are questions for which the answers grow like saplings. You have to nourish and water the saplings, but the growth comes from inside. For example:

  • “How do I stay patient when my client talks a lot?”
  • “What do I do when I feel I’m not making enough of a difference to the client?”
  • “How do I structure a session and partner with the client at the same time?”

For these questions, there isn’t one right answer. Everybody needs to find their own answers to these questions. We are also not ever really done with these questions and the path toward an answer is more valuable than the answer itself.

One of my favorite sayings is: “I don’t have a solution, but I certainly admire the problem.” —  I like interesting questions much more than the illusion of a correct answer.

The differentiation between water glass questions and seed questions is very useful not only for coaches but also for leaders when they decide in which situations it is more useful to give information to their junior direct reports and when it is better to coach. I’ll cover that topic in one of the next blogs so stay tuned.

If you want to have an experience of exploring interesting questions together to join one of our weekly coaching meet up and exchanges:

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And… if you have a question that you would like me to address in one of my next blogs, let me know (at the risk of being told: “Wow, that’s an interesting question – what do you think?”

Looking forward to seeing you or hearing from you!