Ever get stuck talking with your kids, your spouse or colleagues? You know they’re struggling with something and all you get are dead-end or yes/no answers with no follow-up. I recall many conversations as a child with my parents that ended at a blank wall of silence because they wanted facts or answers. I don’t recall them asking me how I felt or how I saw a situation. I knew they were quick to judge and take action, which made me afraid to reveal too much to them.
Powerful questions are provocative and open-ended. They send your listener to new territory. They are inherently curious. They communicate that you’re asking them to think about their situation, but that it’s not about you getting more information so that you can help them. You’re simply being curious, like a child.
Some sample powerful questions might be: What are the possibilities? If you had your choice, what would you do? What are possible solutions? What do you make of it all? What do you think? What do you think is best? How does it look to you? How do you feel about it? What have you tried so far? What do you mean? What does it look/sound/feel like? What seems to confuse you? What was it like? What happened? How does this fit with your plans/way of life/values? What do you think?
Good listeners naturally fall into the pattern of powerful questions; that’s what makes them good listeners. Those who simply want to be helpers, or perhaps need to be helpers, will often just gather information, waiting for the moment to take action to rescue or give advice. There are of course times and places for this, but not as a general rule in our mutual interactions. The great thing about powerful questions is that ultimately they help people help themselves, and that is the cardinal rule of good coaching.
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