Today’s topic is about powerful questions. Sometimes you might know of them as exploratory questions or open-ended questions. Many of us know what they are. They are popular and trendy in business circles these days, but the question is why would you want to ask them and what is their role? What I am going to cover today looking at their purpose, what their format is (how to form a powerful question) and what are some examples of powerful questions and why they work.
First of all, why would you want to use them? A powerful question helps someone explore territories that they might not have explored before. It will help them discover new metaphoric land and they are a really good tool to use when it is time not to give advice.
How do you form a powerful question? First of all, consider that it is at least seven words or less. If it is a few more words that’s okay you won’t be arrested by the question asking police, but you want them to be short so that the majority of the talking comes from the person being asked the question.
Start you questions off with what, how, when, who, what if. All are question words that open the doors to exploration. Another point for now avoid asking the question why. Why is not so horrible but sometimes what happens it makes the person being asked to be a little defensive or to defend why they have a certain answer for something or motivations.
The next term I use with air quotes “your question should be dumb”. Meaning it is not laden with your own hidden agenda. It really is that wide open and the question should be around to gather data for the being the one being asked. Not for you the asker. So, for example, I could say “What is your phone number?”. That’s short, starts with a what but it’s to gather information for myself. That wouldn’t be interesting for the person being asked being asked the questions because they already know the answer.
Here are some examples of powerful questions. A standard one that does a lot of heavy lifting is. “What do you want?”. What could that give you? If it is more business focused “What do you want more of from your team?” “What are your first quarter goals?” “What’s missing at work?” “What’s one of the biggest obstacles to your team’s success?” And “If it could be exactly as you wanted it to be what would that look like?” I know that last one is a little bit longer, but it still works. You can add a few words take a few words away and insert your own content and you’re still going to be able to use a powerful question in the right format.
Here is why they work. The powerful question format puts the onus of discovery on the person being asked. It sits on their shoulders not yours. And the reason why that is important is because when somebody is looking at a topic in which they really want to make some changes, probably something they have though a lot about, a standard piece of advice may not really help that person. A powerful question is like opening a door. It helps people to see things from different angles. If by mistake you infiltrated your questions with your own words and your own opinions that does not provide for unchartered territories for the person being asked. Instead it paves a path for them, or it opens a doorway to a path that has already been paved. And that is the crux of a powerful question. To open new vistas. To offer an invitation to trod on a path untaken. To view something with fresh eyes.
I’ve noticed over the years in teaching this skill within an organization that people become so enamored with powerful questions that they want to use them everywhere all the time. While that is understandable because it is a great tool and it’s fun, they are not great in every situation. At certain times what you need to do is ask someone a closed ended question. When a decision or a commitment or a narrowing down (if you will) is needed. And that is when you can ask something like: “Will you do that by Monday?”, “Is that something you can take on?”. That’s obviously more close ended questions.
So, back to powerful questions I invite you to try asking three powerful questions a day just to see what happens. You can try it in your social circles or a work or at home. Just pause, ask an open-ended question, pause again, and let the person answer. You might be surprised by what you hear.
Thanks for joining us for this week’s “Five-minute Epiphanies How to Mine the Mess for Success: Tips, Snippets and Stories.” For more information check us out at www.stepupleadership.com. Join us next week where Debbie will be talking about breaking obstacles and noticing.