As an executive coach, my job is asking powerful questions. By doing so, I empower my clients to find their own answers, and to do things they could not do on their own. Taking time to ask significant questions – and listen to the answers – communicates that you really value and honor the other person, it creates a bond, and builds trust and transparency between people.
Asking keen and thoughtful questions is not only a coaching skill though. Many other professions’ and professionals’ success depends on the quality of the questions they ask. Politicians, celebrities, reporters, entrepreneurs, therapists, and leaders work very hard to ask the right questions.
The asking approach – instead of the telling one – develops leadership capacity. Research shows that people are more motivated to carry out their own ideas and solutions than those suggested by others. Asking also creates buy-in and buy-in gets results. When you ask for people’s opinions and take them seriously, you are sending a powerful message, you are building responsibility and developing them as leaders themselves.
To ask good questions it is not enough to memorize data or facts, but you need to understand where the other person is coming from and you also need to be open, and curious to hear their answers. Asking powerful questions is not only a coaching tool that leaders can use for their own skill development, but it also helps others to develop their leadership capacity.
Asking the right questions can fundamentally change your life
Gathering information is a basic human activity. We want to understand the world and each other, learn new things, and solve difficult problems. The skill of asking good questions is essential to a successful communication process. They are even entertaining – just think about all the talk shows where politicians, celebrities, or entrepreneurs are very often questioned publicly and their answers can determine whether they are successful or not.
But why do we ask questions?
- to obtain information
- to clarify a point
- to test knowledge
- to encourage further inquiries
- to help maintain control of a conversation
- to express an interest in the other person
- in group situations
Converting a problem into a question encourages critical thinking, and learning. Good questions also give a perspective.
How to ask questions?
The effectiveness of your communication also depends on how you ask a question. It is important:
- to be structured: before you start, inform your partner by giving some background information, and reasoning behind your motive of asking questions. Your respondent will be more open to your questions, and the interaction will go more smoothly, if they know why you are asking these questions.
- to use silence: is a very effective way to delivering questions, to emphasize points, or simply just give your partners a few moments to gather their thoughts before you continue. Pausing for a minimum of three seconds is proven to be very effective. This emphasizes the importance what has been said, prevents the questioner from immediately asking another question, and encourages the respondent to continue with their answer with more detail.
- to encourage participation: to involve people in the discussion or debate. Carefully encourage quiet members of the group to participate.
What types of questions to use and when?
- Closed questions: invite a short-focused answer, and they are often either right or wrong. These are easy to answer, and they can be effectively used early in conversations to encourage participation, or to identify a certain piece of information.
- Open questions: allow longer responses, and more creativity and information.
- Leading or “Loaded” questions: usually point the respondent’s answer subtly in a certain direction.
- Recall questions: require something to be remembered or recalled from memory.
- Process questions: requiring some deeper thoughts, analysis or sharing an opinion.
- Rhetorical questions: are often humorous and don’t require an answer, and by design they are used to make the audience think. They also help to keep attention.
- Funneling: a clever questioning technique of using a series of open questions that become more or less restrictive at each step, and ending it with a closed question or vice-versa, to funnel the respondent’s answers.
Tell me about your most recent holiday.
What did you see while you were there?
Were there some hiking treks?
Did you climb a mountain?
Which was the highest peak you reached?
Did you like it?
As there are plenty of questions and question types, there are also plenty of possible answers. Some of the most important types are the following:
A direct and honest response or a lie which are both relatively simple options. But there are many other subtle versions, like an out of context response which is totally unconnected or irrelevant to the question or which is an attempt to change the topic.
You may partially answer the question, when people are selective about which questions or parts of the questions they answer.
You can also avoid the question – as we often see it in politics. When you get a difficult question or when the answer would have a negative effect, it is better to answer the question with a question or trying to draw attention to some positive aspect of the topic – which are both methods of avoidance.
Stalling – when you answer the question with another question for instance – is a method to use when more time is needed to formulate an acceptable answer.
Distortion – people can give distorted answers to questions based on their perception of social norms, stereotypes and other forms of biases. It is different from lying, as respondents are not aware of the fact that they are biased, or exaggerate their answers to sound more “normal” or “successful”.
Refusal is a simply staying silent or saying, ‘I am not answering’.
If it is true that,
“The quality of your life is directly related to the quality, quantity, and variety of your questions you ask.” (Tony Robbins)
then Which questions do you need to ask right now?
And which questions are you NOT asking right now?
If not NOW,
If not YOU,