Powerful questioning is both art and science, and involves open, probing, and clarifying questions. Because a single word potentially changes the meaning and the direction of the conversation, learning powerful questioning takes time. Powerful questioning is a coaching competency taught during coaching certification. Following are a few highlights.
For example, asking, “What would you do?” falls short of creating a commitment. Instead, asking, “What will you do?” invites being committed to chosen actions.
Consider for yourself how the same question asked two different ways makes a difference. Pause now and think about your answer to this question: What do you want? Consider where your mind goes initially, then give it more time and consider what additional thoughts occur. After a few minutes of thinking, change the phrasing of the question: What do you want in your relationships? Now the question directs where you focus. The same occurs if instead of relationships you are asked what you want in your life or what you want in your career. The first question is truly open; the subsequent examples are questions that give direction.
The question “anything else?” invites a yes or no answer. The question, “what else?” invites consideration of additional possibilities. Close-ended questions limit thinking by either stopping additional consideration or indicating that other thoughts are best be saved for later. With open-ended questions the individual is empowered to explore, consider possibilities, and make their own choices.
Imagine a conversation where a person states, “I am overwhelmed.” A follow-up question might be, “Are you worried that you are unable to handle it?” This interprets what is behind the initial statement and includes judgment. Instead ask, “What is going on?” The person then continues their thought process and shares what is happening. Overwhelmed could be overwhelmed with joy, concern, gratitude, tasks, priorities, etc. The first example of a response jumps to a conclusion, the second seeks clarification.
Imagine discussing a customer complaint. The question, “Do you think you should provide a written response?” gives an answer in the question and shuts down other options. This type of question limits thinking and possibilities. The question, “What are your possible courses of action?” empowers consideration of multiple options.
Tips for powerful question include:
- Keep it short and simple
- Ask open-ended questions
- Ask questions that focus forward
- Ask questions that are open to possibilities
- Ask questions using words that work for the individual
Coaching certification is the way to learn powerful questioning.