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Six Words Or Less: Powerful Questions For The Clinician and Coach

Filed under: Coaching,physical therapy,Uncategorized — Shon @ 6:50 pm July 27, 2012

Up until recently, I never gave significant thought to the kinds of questions I was casually asking my patients and athletes on a daily basis.  Stream of consciousness pretty much rules the day when I am working with my people, and my communication style remains conversational, open, positive, and free flowing.  My only steadfast rule in casual patient/ client communication is my "Five Minute Rule", where I make it a point to speak with and briefly engage my patients and my other therapists' patients every (you guessed it!) five minutes.  This is a powerful tool, as a simply, perfectly timed  contact keeps your people engaged and focused.

Recently though, I happened to hear myself ask a few key questions repeatedly to a number of patients over the course of the day.  Maybe it was the fact that I had more new evaluations than normal and had to ensure that I nailed down instructions for their home program, or perhaps it was because of the pain that they were dealing with with from some pretty aggressive fascial manipulation work that I have been doing recently. Whatever the case, I thought a bit more about what key questions I ask the people I work with and why I ask them.  


Ask appropriate questions, not riddles


Brevity is key; six words or less generally is sufficient to get my point across.  Below are my "go to" questions on a daily basis:


1)  "Does This Make Sense to You?"

If what you are doing or asking doesn't make sense on some level to a patient or client, they will tune you out very quickly.  Or they won't be back.  And they won't get better.  This negative cascade can be halted pretty easily with the above statement.  Delivered with good eye contact, a light contact to a non-threatening area (dorsal forearm) and undivided attention, this is key in developing early trust, whether you are performing manual therapy, teaching a new movement pattern, or dishing out a helping of metabolic conditioning.

"Do you understand?" also can suffice.  Motivational speaker and business coach Bob Proctor once stated "you do not understand something until you can explain it to someone else, so that they too can understand it." If your people understand your intervention, they should either be able to articulate it or demonstrate it.    

2)  "Are You Sure?"

Following up "Does this make sense to you?" with "Are you sure?" gives the person a parachute.  If they didn't want to hurt your feelings or just felt stupid saying "no" to the above question, you now have allowed them another option.  The patient, client or athlete can now ask for further clarification without feeling like an imbecile.  One caveat:  Don't over-utilize this question, as repeated use makes a person feel that you as an authority don't believe them.  Once and done is good here before moving on.

3)  "Are You O.K.?"

Followed by "with this/ that" ("this/that" being generic for exercise, manual therapy technique, or intervention of your choice) lets your people know you are in tune with their immediate need.  I use this in conjunction with the "Five Minute Rule" for great effect.  Again, sincerity is key, because almost everyone has a sixth sense that acts as a B.S. detector developed after too many years spent in post office lines, high school classrooms, and grocery store check out lanes.  If you don't mean what you are asking, don't ask it in the first place, because invariably, not everyone will always be "O.K." and will need a little bit more of you.

4) "Do You Have Any Questions?"

Always encourage questions.  There should be no such thing as a dumb question in your eyes-and even if you perceive it is, don't let your patient or client think it is.  Clinicians often feel threatened by questions, as they challenge their position as an expert.  Therapists and physicians are especially sensitive to being questioned.  Get over it-people have legitimate concerns that can be allayed with questions.  Use this question very frequently, especially early on.  Not "Any questions?" which is more of a statement and can be perceived as a brush off, but "Do you have any questions?" which engages the individual person more.  Your people should always have questions, especially the more you work with them.  Good questions serve to help you grow as a professional, keep your ego in check, and force you to stay current with knowledge. 

5) "What Are Your Expectations?"

The question that should be asked during the initial meeting. This allows your people to articulate why they are using you and your services.  It gives you  a working platform, and sets up a two way street between you and your client-they know you are in tune to their needs and wants, and allows you to hone in on strategies and tools to allow them to succeed.  If you don't ask this question, then you don't have a clear path toward an outcome as outlined by the person who hired you in the first place.     

 *6) "Thanks!" 

*Not a question, but a statement of sincerity.  Your client chose you-you didn't chose them.  They may not know about your expertise, or that you are good, better or the best; they may not really care either.  They just have a need that you can hopefully help them with.  Let them know that you appreciate the chance to help them,and let them know often. "No, thank you!" is now a permanent part of my vocabulary  This can't be used too much of course.