Are you asking the right questions?

Use Power Questions for Better Conversations

Asking power questions may be the most important, yet least developed, skill for personal and professional success. In the work I do coaching executives, we discuss how they are using questions. You’d be surprised at how many smart leaders are great at giving answers, but fall short on asking questions.

One popular belief holds that we win friends and new business by being clever and quick on our feet, and that our brilliance—saying just the right thing—is what attracts others. But knowing the right question to ask is actually far more valuable than having a ready answer.

Power questions – the kind that make you think and opens up the conversation – can help you:

  • Open your mind and fuel conversations
  • Reframe and redefine a problem
  • Challenge underlying assumptions
  • Force us to examine new perspectives
  • Innovate for the future
  • Forge important relationships
  • Gather information
  • Focus us on what’s most important

Transformational teachers like Socrates, Jesus, Mohammed and Buddha were masters at using powerful questions as teaching tools, forever changing the lives of their disciples. Albert Einstein and Peter Drucker were 20th-century intellectuals who were known for asking provocative 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.

“The questions we select have the power to give life to conversations in unexpected and delightful ways,” they write. “They are powerful tools to get directly to the heart of the matter. They are the keys to opening locked doors.”

Here’s an example of a powerful question that can help you improve relationships, manage priorities and enjoy greater influence.

“What would you like to know about…?”

When people ask you to describe your company, job or services, clarify their intent before you start talking. What are they interested in learning? Don’t assume you know. There’s nothing worse than giving a five-minute answer to the wrong question. If time is tight, make sure your answer is brief and on target (i.e., “What part of my background interests you?” or “What would you like me to focus on?”). After you respond, ask if you’ve answered the question and if there’s anything else they want you to cover.

The next time you’re asked about your company, or your job, be sure to clarify and ask a few questions yourself. You’ll be glad you did.

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