The question that helps people open up. - TJ Guttormsen

The question that helps people open up.

How often do others open up for you?

My client was frustrated because one of his own coaching clients would shut down whenever he was asked a personal question.

“I don’t get it,” my client said. “This guy is paying me to help him, but he still stonewalls me whenever anything personal comes up. All I get is excuses and deflections. He won’t open up!”

This is a more common problem than most people think. Not only in coaching, but in life in general. Whether they are friends, family, lovers, kids, colleagues, or whatever. And even when they were the ones turning to us for conversation, opening up is a challenge for many.

There can be many reasons for this, but chief among them is usually one of two things: Lack of trust, or personal insecurities.

The good news is that there is a very simple conversational technique that can be used to remedy both issues at the same time!

I actually stumbled across this technique 13 years ago when I was figuring out how to have better conversations with women. And since then I’ve found that it has been useful to me in all my relationships, whether they be platonic, romantic or professional.

I use it with my wife, my friends, and strangers all the time. And I use it with my coaching clients on almost all of our coaching calls.

And the results are always the same: Every time I use it, people start opening up. They forget about their insecurities for a moment, they feel safer, and they want to share with me the kind of stuff they rarely share with others.

“Why am I telling you this? No one knows this about me!” Is something I’ve heard over and over again from people I’ve just met and my closest friends alike.

But be warned, this technique – this question – will only work if you are genuinely interested in the answer. If you are, this will become one of your favorite conversational (and for you coaches – coaching) tools in no time.


Genuine Interest:

And here it is: Instead of asking people what they do, ask them why they do it.

Not in a judgmental or critical way. Not even in an exploratory way. But in a curious, encouraging and personal way. Look for their motivations, their drives, their inspiration, and their passion for the things they do.

“What is it about X that makes you enjoy it?”

“So what motivated you to start doing X in the first place?”

“Tell me, what are your favorite experiences that you get from X?”

“What does X give you that you feel you don’t get from other things?”


In everyday conversations, these kinds of questions will create deep rapport incredibly fast. And that rapport will transfer from topic to topic. So if you look for their passions behind, for example, their hobby – minutes later they’ll be ready to open up to you on other topics as well.

These conversations increase trust, engages people’s emotional thinking, and it brings depth to conversations that otherwise would have been mostly superficial.

And if you’re a leader, a coach, a counselor, a teacher, or any other such person who will benefit from people connecting and engaging more deeply with you – this is an invaluable skill to practice.


My client took this to heart. He practiced the technique with his friends and family up until his next session with the difficult client, and after the session, I got this text from him:

“That was incredible! We made more progress in this one session than we have in the four weeks leading up to it and all I did was spend a few minutes at the beginning of the session asking about his why’s. Thanks!”

So how will this benefit you in your life? Where and when will you start using it? Who would you like to help open up more around you?


For coaches and future coaches:

I have started a free, intimate, Facebook community for beginner coaches, and for those who want to become coaches. A place where I (and others with lots of experience) can answer questions and share our knowledge and experience with those who want to get to where we are.

It’ll be a way for me to give back to the coaching community, to repay you for the help others gave me when I was starting out 10 years ago. A pay-it-forward project, if you will.

The group will be kept small enough that I can give everyone personal attention – but there’s still room for a couple of more. So join us now, if you want to be one of them!

-TJ Guttormsen

Want to learn more simple and effective techniques to connect with people? There’s a ton of them included in my various online courses here.

Let’s connect on social media!

Join my Facebook group Centered Communication.
Follow me on Instagram @tjguttormsen.
Subscribe to my YouTube channel.

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