How to Ask Powerful Questions – The Fine Art of Fostering Fresh Thinking

friends asking good questions

When I trained to become a coach, the most important tool that I worked to develop is the way I ask questions. In each session, I strive to ask powerful questions in such a way that it helps a clients to consider something they’ve been thinking about for some time in an entirely new light.

As a coach, my goal is to encourage critical thinking by asking clients open questions. If done correctly, it can change the tired narrative, and helps the client have a fresh thought an the motivation to move forward in a different way. Insightful questions (and the responses they spark) can help a client gain traction and momentum.

In addition to powerful questioning, I was trained to  listen attentively and give clients lots of space to pursue fresh thoughts. That’s partnered with coaching accountability and supporting clients as they reframe the problem, problem solve and pursue solutions. As the coach, my job is to ask powerful questions to broaden your emotional intelligence and critical thinking.

Per my training, a good coach would never advise a client on the best course of action. That’s a consultant or an advisor. A coach helps the client think, never thinking for them. And while many clients will ask me to tell them what to do, it’s not a coach’s role. [That said, I will ask a persistent client — would you like me to break from my coaching role and share my point of view / advise / consult on this? With permission, and a clear recognition that this is not coaching, I will do this.]

The goal of a coach is to have the client find the path they seek.

Guiding a client to see things in a different or new way, is satisfying for the client, and reduces dependency on the coach. Having someone tell you what to do is far less powerful than discovering what to do on your own.

A coach’s job is to ask powerful questions so that the client is able to have fresh thoughts, answer their own questions in a new way.  Good coaching questions should create new thinking patterns that allow the client to pursue the answer that is right for them.

How To Ask Powerful Questions?

Good questions are central to finding new answers to the “same old” challenges, and working towards creative solutions.

A good question is an open-ended question. But that question still has to be well structured and not so open that it is hard to pin down an answer, ie “So what do you want to do with your life?” That is a question that leaves the client feeling stressed, anxious, apprehensive. It’s too big, and often the very reason why they’re meeting with me in the first place!

A good open ended question gives options. If it is too broad, then it becomes difficult to navigate. Questions that are excessively broad makes trying to come up with an answer frustrating for the client. So, the goal is to be open and manageable. Focus on the now. Ask questions about their current situation rather than one that covers a wide span of time.

The goal in knowing how to ask a good question is to tighten the field so the questions are not overly stressful or vague. Stressful questions can heighten anxiety and diffuse questions are too difficult to approach, making a client feel overwhelmed. A client’s emotional response to the questions being asked is as important as the questions themselves.

old men asking powerful questions

Learning how to ask powerful questions also means I have to learn how to monitor an individual’s response. I watch their face and body language. If it’s a good question, then the client will tend to look to the side. They will stop interacting with the coach who asks it so they can use their whole brain to answer the great question. They will either look down and to the side or up and to the side. It’s a physical shift you can see happen when they have been asked a good question.The client will be extremely focused on answering it rather than just offering a basic response.

Here are some examples of what can start a well-framed question to prompt both thinking and helpful answers:

  • This time next year….
  • With respect to your relationship with your partner, how would you like your relationship…….
  • When you think about the place you’d like to live, what are three attributes that are important to you……

I try to simultaneously widen and narrow the scope so the answers are manageable and creative. I push the question forward so there are a variety of things for the client to consider and if the answers don’t seem to show up then maybe it’s a question that has to be taken off the table for a while.

By narrowing the scope of the question and leaving it open-ended, I can help the client have fresh thoughts and move closer to possible answers. It opens the field for creativity in answers but narrows it enough, so the question is not overwhelming to the point of a non-answer.

Tools that can be Used to Form Questions

I am not the only one who can ask powerful questions! The fine art of question asking can help my clients, and it can help you deepen relationships in your life. People want to talk, communicate, think and love. They want to be known, heard, and understood. We all want deeper connections in our lives.

Deep and meaningful conversations (D&Ms) can happen anywhere, any time. You’ve probably had a great conversation with a total stranger on a plane. That’s connection, listening, and asking good questions that reveal a person to you. Connecting with others adds to your contentment, and helps you feel more connected. Connections with your faith, family, friends and work all can be made more powerful by asking good questions and listening to the answers. Deepening connections through powerful question asking is intentional act that can improve your life.

I’ve trained as a coach to learn how to do this; and believe it or not there are simple, over the counter tools that can help you do this in your life. There are plenty of books of “coaching questions” and there are simple question asking board games like Vertellis that offer pre-set categorized questions to enjoy with your loved ones. This viral list of  “45 questions to ask while waiting”  is another good one. These are simple tools that will help you develop your question asking.

What a great way to pass the time when you’re Zooming or socializing over the holidays!

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