The more powerful the question,
the more complete the answer.

In our world of lightening fast communication, decision making and problem solving, asking the right questions can mean the different between getting a complete or partial answer.  So how do we ask powerful questions?

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1. Know the Difference.  

There are several types of questions.

  • Closed questions elicit a simple response such as a Yes/No answer.  For example: Will Sriram be on the call today? (Yes or No). How is your day going? (short response usually fine or good).
  • Open questions are broad and require more thought.  For example: Where do you see things going from here?  What is your background?
  • Powerful questions, on the other hand, hone in to elicit a much more thought out response.  They deepen thinking, hone in, are not so easy to answer and keep the conversation going; they look underneath what’s really happening.  For example:  What two steps can you take towards achieving your goal?  What is the most important lesson you learned from this experience?

Check out this 2-minute video of Pris Nelson, sharing her tips on Powerful Questions.

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2.  Use powerful questions when you want to get to the root of what the other person is saying.  

Carefully think about the question you want to ask and how you can hone in.  Rather than saying, “what did you learn from this experience (too broad), you can ask what are the two most important lessons you learned? or you could ask “What are the two things you would do differently next time?”  These types of questions then allow you to drive the conversation down to a deeper level while targeting what’s most important rather than top of mind.

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3.  Silence is time well spent when you ask a powerful question.

Most of us can’t stand silence in a conversation. It makes us nervous, anxious and even impatient.  What we fail to realize is that time is different for the one asking verses the one answering.  You’ve formulated and asked the question, that’s your role.  The person you asked now has to go through a process.  First they consider the question, then they formulate their response. Finally, they ask themselves, how will my answer be perceived; will I look stupid, will I be believed?  The time for entire process  can vary from 10 seconds to well over a minute. For the one asking the question, this short period of time feels like an eternity.  What usually happens is the person chimes in too soon breaking the process for the person you asked the question to.  Count (silently) 1001, 1002, 1003, 1004 until the other person speaks if you really need to fill the time.  Silence is time well spent when you ask  question.

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4.  Let the answer drive the next question

Don’t formulate your entire question set.  You are not an attorney, this is not a court room.  Make the conversation flow by listening to the answer then taking your own time to form your next question.  In a truly powerful conversation the next question should dive down deeper into what the person has told you.

Q: What is the most important lesson you gained from this experience?

A: I need to become comfortable with silence?

Q: What one or two things can you do to become comfortable with silence?

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5.  Don’t be fooled by questions that are powerful impostors

Some questions appear to be powerful when they are not.  These questions are impostors, pretending to be powerful when in reality most of the time they are closed questions.  For example, “Can you tell me more?” You ask the question to drive the conversation to a deeper level only to hear the other person respond with, “no”.  What looked liked a powerful question is actually a closed question that may or may not get you the answer you want.  Here’s another impostor, “What else can you tell me?”  Answer: “nothing, I told you everything.”

If you follow these 5 keys to powerful questions (and please watch the short video, it’s only one minute), then your conversations will be more robust with less confusion and greater opportunity to build strong relationships.

Does every conversation have to use powerful questions (this is a closed question by the way)?  The answer is NO!  If all your want to know is “What time is the meeting?” then clearly the most direct path is the right path.

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