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A Lesson in Coaching Skills:
The Art of Asking Powerful Questions

The strength of powerful questions is measured by the impact it has on the person receiving the question.

Well timed powerful questions cause people to think on their own. And when people think on their own, they learn more.

Constantly giving people information doesn't always work. It's like trying to pull a stubborn 1000 pound horse to water. And even if you get it to water, good luck making it drink.

For example This guy was all excited about the marketing he was doing and how much he enjoyed writing content that met the needs of his clients. Riding the freight train of excitement, the powerful question "How will you double the audience you reach?" really forced him to put his thinking cap on. In fact, he went silent for about 30 seconds and I could practically hear the cogs turning in his head.

Powerful Questions Have Two Parts

In the example above, I gave you the question (the first part) and some context to illustrate the timing (the second part) of the question.

The first part is easy. If you apply the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) principle you'll do well. If you make the question too wordy, it will not have the same impact on the other person. Remember, it's like a knock-out punch. BLAMO!

Oh ya, I almost forgot. Yes/No questions don't carry any wait. And questions starting with "why" or "how" are not as good as "what" questions.

The second part is the timing and requires practice. Here are some tips for timing your powerful questions well.

  1. Don't be afraid about not having the answer before asking the question. Sometimes you will have the answer but not always.

  2. Avoid rhetorical questions. They won't work for obvious reasons. None-the-less, this draws attention to the tone in which the question is asked. There is a difference between "what do you think" asked with curiosity and "what do you think" with an undertone of cynicism (i.e. what do you think...dumbass).

  3. Speak in the same words as the other person. If you are into spiritual stuff, why ask your friend the left-brain engineer what her "light being" wants in her career. She might look at you like you're some sort of weirdo.

  4. Be okay with silence. Stop yourself from answering the question before the other person answers it.

  5. Keep practicing. You can ask many powerful questions but try to space them out. Give the person a chance to think or respond.

  6. Remember your intention. The ultimate goal of the powerful questions is to have the other person figure "it" out on their own and as a result have more, longer-lasting learning.

What's the saying?

"You can bring a horse to water, but you can't make it drink."

Example Powerful Questions

These are gems that can be used with employees.

  • What do you mean?
  • What's another way to do that?
  • How would __________ tackle this?
  • What do you want?
  • What's great about that?

Working with a partner.

  • What would be fair?
  • How can we find a way to have it be fun?
  • What support do you need to accomplish _______?
  • What's important about this?

Talking with an accountability buddy.

  • What would that get you?
  • What's your message?
  • Who's your audience?
  • What do you need to get the job done?
  • What can you delegate to others?

With potential clients.

  • What are your challenges?
  • What are you willing to do differently?
  • What are you ready to pay for?
  • What's your payoff?

Some universal simple ones. You can't go wrong with these.

  • What's next?
  • What else?
  • What do you want?

Things to Try For Yourself

Here are some homework exercises you can try to get better at asking powerful questions.

  1. In your next meeting, try to ask at least 5 powerful questions. This can be very impactful in a board room meeting with many people. Especially notice when you want to pipe in and "wow" people with your brilliant knowledge. That's a perfect time for a powerful question.

  2. Set up informal 10 minute meetings with the employees, partners, and/or friends around you to try out your new skill. Notice the results.

  3. In your next 5 conversations, pretend you know nothing.

Some Powerful Questions For You

How could I write this page and not ask some powerful questions for you?!

So here goes:

  • What support do you need?
  • What is your legacy?
  • What is it to be focused?
  • What's stopping you?
  • Lastly, what are you learning? I hope you're learning a lot from this website. Enjoy.

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