Sometimes we become so fixated on a single issue that we are left incapable of looking at the bigger picture. At these times it is useful to ask ourselves an important question. A powerful question is one that makes us think, that helps us compare and contrast different viewpoints, and widens our own point of view. The reason is clear: we all know more than we think we do; but when we obsess over something, we don’t always see the alternatives.
We know more than we think we do but when we obsess over something, we don’t see the alternatives
Well-formulated questions can help us question ourselves and consider other options. This is why we call them powerful questions – because they are useful and help us to reflect deeply and find new solutions. Let’s see how we can apply them in our day-to-day lives or to help someone else out.
First of all, these are open-ended questions. A closed question invites either a “yes” or a “no” answer. Open-ended questions require greater thought. If we ask something along the lines of: “Have you adjusted well to your new job?” The person you’re asking will probably respond with a “yes,” which gives little room for maneuver. But if you ask an open-ended question, such as: “What has been the hardest part of starting your new job?” Then you push a person to think more deeply and find new answers that go beyond generic chit-chat.
Secondly, powerful questions can help ground your emotions. The goal is to avoid common responses that aren’t helpful, such as complaining or expressing regrets. For example, if someone says: “I’m doing terribly,” you could ask: “What is it that is going so badly? Can you talk me through it?” By doing so, you invite the other person to identify their problems so they can explain them better.
Third, these powerful questions help us to examine ourselves. For example, if what you want is to challenge a preconceived notion of something, it is helpful to ask questions like: “Who says it has to be this way?” or, “Who is preventing you from getting what you want?”
The goal is to avoid common responses that aren’t helpful, such as complaining or expressing regrets
If your objective is to counter an idea such as: “There’s no way of convincing the other department,” you could ask: “What could you do to …?” or, “What would you suggest...?”
If what you want is to stop avoiding problems, it would be useful to ask things such as: “What role did you have in all of this?” or, “What could you have done that you didn’t?” If you face something that scares you, ask yourself: “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” Once you identify this, you can make a better action plan.
The goal of powerful questions is to help a person analyze, avoid common answers and push them into action. It should come as no surprise that it is a tactic popular with life coaches, managers who are looking to develop their team’s talent and teachers who want to motivate their students. It is not something new – Socrates taught by asking questions. He used the maieutic method, a Greek word meaning “skill in helping in childbirth.” His mother was a midwife and he must have seen childbirth as a philosophical metaphor for “giving birth” to new ideas. That’s why training yourself to ask questions before offering up solutions is worth the effort. We can reject the opinions, suggestions or advice of others. But it is much harder for us to turn our backs on our own reflections or ideas.
English version by Laura Rodríguez.