3 Power Questions for Great Conversations

Many smart executives are great at giving answers. They get interviewed and give speeches frequently enough. But asking powerful questions is a skill worth developing. In the work I do coaching executives, we work on raising their curiosity and skills for asking the right questions.

In Power Questions: Build Relationships, Win New Business, and Influence Others (Wiley, 2012), consultants Andrew Sobel and Jerold Panas present more than 200 significant questions, along with stories about how to use them.

Here are three power questions that, in my opinion, aren’t used often enough:

1.     “What do you think?”

These four words are key to initiating conversations. Many of us expend too much energy making sure our opinions are heard and understood. Few of us provide adequate care and attention to the others’ opinions.

Many people talk too much, and too few know how to listen effectively. As Henry David Thoreau once wrote in his diary, “The greatest compliment was paid to me today. Someone asked me what I thought and actually attended to my answer.”

Studies repeatedly demonstrate that we care most about people who listen to us. People crave appreciation, and they seek out those who will listen to them. There is nothing more potent than asking, “What do you think?”

2.     “How will this further your mission and goals?”

Human nature makes us hungry to achieve wealth, power and fame. This applies to both individuals and organizations. We become engrossed in the day-to-day challenges associated with winning at all costs, but this doesn’t necessarily nurture our hearts and souls.

Before you invest time and energy in pursuing the wrong goals, ask yourself, “Is this consistent with my values and beliefs?” Focus on what’s really important in your life.

3.     Ask fundamental questions: “What do you mean?”

Ask people for specifics when they use clichéd terms: “What do you mean by ‘more innovation’—or, better teamwork?” or “What would this look like to you?” Ask people to describe, in specific detail, what they’d like to see happen.

Instead of assuming there’s a shared meaning, ask for clarification. You’ll be surprised at how people answer. By asking fundamental questions, you take the conversation to a deeper level. You engage people and make them think. Instead of imposing your views, encourage others to examine their assumptions.

What are some of your favorite power questions, ones that really open up the conversation to a more meaningful level? I’d love to hear from you; leave a comment.

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