A New Purpose for Socratic Questioning in Coaching

Coaching lecture series "Coaching - Research and Practice"

Stefano De DominicisPhD Stefano De Dominicis

Stefano came to the Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports 5 years ago from Rome. He is Assistant Professor of Sport and Health Psychology and co-director of the Coaching Psychology Unit at the University of Copenhagen, a Chartered Psychotherapist, and Certified Executive Coach.


Socratic questioning is a method in coaching that aims to unfold the objective ‘truth’ behind a given matter, using questions that unveil what is implicitly known or disentangle the contradictions of a person’s beliefs. Socratic questioning can help to set focus on specific challenges, goals, and behaviors. As such, at a first glance Socratic Questioning fits well both “problem-and-goal” and “solution-future scenarios” approaches to coaching.

However, Socratic Questioning could be re-interpreted to serve a twofold, hierarchical purpose in coaching. At the lower level, and in the short-term, Socratic questioning’s goal is indeed to “guide discovery” in the interlocutors, which in turn helps the coachee to overcome specific challenges.

However, drawing upon a Third Generation Coaching perspective, we suggest a higher-order, long-term purpose of Socratic questioning: that is, to create partnership, moments of symmetry, and resonance in the dialogue partners, which allows for meaning-making, self-reflection, shared-reflection, and shift in narrators’ perspectives. After all, it was Socrates himself that practiced boêtheia (partnership) and maieutikós (midwifery) in his dialogues, clearly denoting his ethics’ collaborative and co-creative orientation. In this Third Generation Coaching understanding, which highlights that true change occurs through meaningful experiences in the here and now of meaningful coaching dialogues, Socratic Questioning helps fostering long-lasting, value-based personal growth in all dialogue partners beyond the achievement of a specific goal.

Karnapsalen, Nørre Allé 53, 1 Floor, 2200 Copenhagen.

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Further information
Reinhard Stelter, Coaching Psychology Unit, University of Copenhagen

The lecture is part of a series of lectures titled "Coaching - research and
practice", which is sponsored by the EMCC. The lecture series aims to build a bridge between research and praxis in coaching and at the same time embed coaching practices in the research discourse. The intention is to hear from researchers, who explore coaching from a business, health or sports related angle. The Coaching Psychology Unit at the University of Copenhagen was established in order to launch and coordinate interdisciplinary research, education and dissemination in coaching.