When I attended coaching school and was introduced to powerful questioning, I was in the life stage of having 3 teenage sons and my most-used powerful question was “WHAT were you thinking!?!?” It starts with a ‘what’ and it’s short! I have come to learn that perhaps it would have been better received if I posed the question more like this: “What were your thoughts here?” = Yes, aside from the rules there is an art to asking a powerful question.
Let’s review the rules:
• Start with a What, How or Where.
• No longer than 5-7 words; otherwise, you are explaining, adding opinion or stacking questions.
• Steer clear of ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’, which often feel heavy with judgment.
• Steer clear of ‘why’ questions, which sometime puts people on the defensive.
• Powerful Questioning addresses the person and not the situation, issue or problem.
What makes powerful questioning an art? One simple word: Heart! Jack Canfield and Dr. Peter Chee wrote the book Coaching for Breakthrough Success, and in it they break coaching into Heart, Mind and Energy of the Coach. I enjoy the model and I couldn’t agree more that masterful coaching comes mainly from the heart. What is the spirit in which you coach? How do you establish relationship and trust? How do you ask questions that empower? And the list goes on to demonstrate that the art of asking the right question at the right time comes from your heart being in the right place.
In order to truly ask powerful questions beyond the rules of structure, you have to be willing to tap into all your inner resources. One of the ways to develop this is to practice asking yourself powerful questions in your everyday life situations. Besides tapping into your coach for powerful questioning, use the practice of powerful questioning everyday as situations, issues or triggers show up. Create questions that may tap into your heart, head, and gut. As you practice on yourself, you will get a ‘real’ sense of what the question feels like. Here are a couple more practices that you can incorporate in your everyday life to help you develop the art of powerful questioning.
1. When in everyday conversation with people, play the 2 question game: make yourself ask 2 powerful questions prior to giving an advice, comment or opinion.
2. If you are in a ‘charged’ situation, before you respond give yourself a time out and ask and answer as many powerful questions about the situation that you may ask a client in the same situation. Record your answers as a way to take the ‘charge’ out of the situation and give you clarity in responding.
Remember the guideline when you are coaching clients: WAIT (Why am I talking) and LET (Listen, empathize and trust) YOUR CLIENTS SPEAK! The Empathize space is where you step into your heart and the heart of the client. Let your questions be informed from that space.
Now how do you take WAIT and LET within? It is said we have 3 brains: our head, our heart and our gut. When one of these is taking over, it is a good practice to WAIT and LET the other speak!
If you lead from your heart, WAIT and LET your head have a few words. It needs to sort out the facts. Ask yourself: what is your sense of the situation? Lead with your gut — which is your sense — then cross check with your head. What are the facts and how does your heart feel? This is the art of powerful questioning…inside and out!