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Good Questions... Bad Questions?

As a coach, you are expected to know how to use good questions. But what about during team meetings with your colleagues, or a review meeting with your manager? We all want the people around us to open their minds to different perspectives, but how can we encourage them to stop talking and start thinking?

In my day-to-day business I have seen that small changes to how we ask questions can have the most positive impact. Instead of feeling defensive, the person in front of you opens up when we use good questions. There are some simple steps we can all apply when asking questions that will take us from bad questions to good questions. These measures can change how we interact with people around us on a daily basis.

The closed question is one we are all familiar with. We all know we shouldn´t use it, but how often do people give us just a yes or no? Is it their lack of desire to converse with us or are we asking the wrong question? A simple solution is to start the question with “what” or “how” and swiftly “Does that motivate you?” becomes “How does that make you feel?” and now you are having a conversation.

One of the biggest challenges we face as coaches is to release our conviction that we know what is best for someone else. Instead of moving towards middle ground, we inadvertently impose our own values on others. Leading questions can be perceived as manipulative and instead of compromising, people will further entrench their position. Advice disguised as a question could be as simple as “Have you tried to prioritize?” An easy alternative is to broaden the question: “What solutions have you tried?” Now you are exploring options.

We are constantly interpreting what we hear, by comparing new information to our own experiences. The risk is that we jump to conclusions that were not intended. To avoid using an interpretive question, incorporate the other person's words. “What was the impact when you were not engaged at work?” becomes “What was the impact when you lost motivation?” It can be such an easy jump to make: from no motivation to unengaged. But making the wrong interpretation is dangerous ground, and somewhere we want to avoid.

Perhaps the most confrontational question of all is the why question, which challenges a person´s motive and actions. It is the question that springs to mind most often, yet leaves people feeling judged and defensive. The conference room has just turned into a battlefield. However, replacing “why” with “what” can change the whole atmosphere. “Why are you not motivated?” becomes “What is impacting your motivation?” Now instead of a personal criticism, we are exploring external factors. On this playing field we are happy and eager to engage with each other. And isn't that the goal after all?


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