How to Begin Asking Powerful Questions

What is your favorite question to be asked? What question or questions can someone ask you that engage you right away in a meaningful conversation? And what signals do you pick up that tell you this individual is genuinely interested in you?

It’s a gift when someone is truly curious about us and interested in learning about what we think. And it’s even more unusual for someone to be willing to listen deeply to what we have to say without interrupting with their own agenda or opinions. When we feel “safe” in those conversations we can relax and be ourselves. And just as importantly, we can share our own wisdom freely.

As leaders in today’s rapidly changing world, we all need the very best of everyone at the table. We can’t afford to ignore or minimize the strengths of those we work with simply because we don’t know how to ask the right questions at the right time. But how do we know what to ask and when?

Here’s how to start . . .

First, know that people are naturally “resourceful and whole”. This is a core belief of coaching and challenges us as leaders to create safe conversations for others to bring their best ideas, energy and focus to mutually desired outcomes.

Second, step into your curiosity. Be quiet, mindful and simply curious. Start the conversation off with a “What” question or a “How” question. Avoid “Why” questions because they often have the unintended result of creating defensive feelings. Examples of questions are:

  • “What have you already been thinking of?”
  • “What would that look like?”
  • “How will you know you/we are successful?”
  • “What is the opportunity/challenge here?”
  • “What is your professional assessment/recommendation?”

Third, listen deeply without interrupting, especially if the other person is more introverted. These questions are some of my favorite.

  • “What else?”
  • “What is the part that isn’t yet clear?”
  • “What other resources/planning do you need?”
  • “What is getting in the way of your success/movement ahead?”

Finally, ask several questions directed to action steps and accountability. That’s the easy part for leaders who are strong problem solvers. Remember to stay curious and ask how they want to move forward. Listen for their wisdom – that’s why you hired them!

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