What are powerful questions and what makes them so powerful?

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This article was originally published on LinkedIn.

Curiosity is one of the best tools to empower people and to bring more connection into the workplace by showing interest and giving voice to others.

Asking powerful questions is one of the simplest ways in which to bring more curiosity into our conversations and, at the same time, offering space and showing interest, and efficiently empowering others to be more proactive and creative.

Powerful questions shift the power dynamics in a conversation so that the person who is asking becomes something like a facilitator for the other person to find their own solutions rather than the one who is in charge of the whole conversation. The impact on the person who is asked the powerful question is significant: They feel heard, recognized for being capable of finding their own solutions, in control of their situation and free to make a choice.

How do powerful questions look like?

  1. Powerful questions are open

By asking a question that can be answered with Yes or No, we cut the other person off from the option of exploring all possibilities that a situation brings. By replacing a closed Yes/No question with an open one, we invite the other person to explore their situation from a broader perspective and to come up with their own, creative solutions.

Example:

How do you see this being implemented? Instead of Do you think it is possible to implement this?

2. Powerful questions start with Wh- words (with the exception of Why) and How

Ideal words to start an open question with are What, Where and How. These adverbs invite the other side to explain themselves and to explore the possibilities that come with a specific situation. At the same time, they indicate that we are ready to listen to what the person has to say and that we are genuinely interested in their input.

Example:

Where do you see the opportunity here? Instead of Do you really want to focus on this?

Powerful questions don’t start with the word Why. Why? Because Why often evokes the feeling of pressure, the other person might feel like they need to justify themselves. As a result, they might shut down or get defensive. With a bit of practice, it becomes easy to learn to “neutralize” open questions by replacing Why with What.

Example:

What do you see as the biggest challenge? Instead of Why do you find this challenging?

3. Powerful questions are short and to the point

Again, open questions are about putting you in charge. The shorter and clearer our question is, the more space there is for thinking and creativity in the other person. Make sure to cut off all unnecessary words or words indicating your opinion or assumption.

Example:

What makes this important for you? Instead of What makes this important for you now when we are all busy with other projects and the holiday season is approaching?

4. Powerful questions are created in the moment

Yes, there are endless lists of sample powerful questions on the internet. They might be very useful to look at them as examples, however what makes a powerful question even more powerful is when it is created as a result of genuine and focused listening.

Ask your powerful questions as a follow-up to something that was just said. This way you make sure that the other person feels truly listened to and feels ready to take charge and engage in thinking deeply about their answer. People are more open once they feel the other side is truly interested in what they have to say. Powerful questions, as a follow-up, are an open invitation to take time to create something in the moment rather than having all the “right” answers figured out already.

Example:

Thank you for sharing your frustrations with me. What seems to be the biggest challenge for you? Instead of What can you do differently?

People tend to take charge when they feel supported, recognized and resourceful. The only challenge for many people is to not to give their power away, especially when their education teaches them to always go with the crowd and respect traditional hierarchy.

Powerful questions have the power to transform the dynamics of relationships in any kind of environment. In modern organizations, where leadership does not equal micromanagement, coaching your employees, by asking powerful questions, is the way to empower them to take responsibility for their work, their development and engagement.

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