As a leader within your organization, you spend a substantial amount of your time asking your team, clients, or even board members questions. Using better, powerful questions will help you bond with your team and further unlock your potential as a leader.

Asking effective questions is an art. While it may seem like an easy thing to do, understanding how to ask powerful questions will unlock new answers and insights about your business you’ve never had before.

So what do powerful questions look like? The best questions showcase active listening. Powerful questions are phrased as open-ended inquiries to help the person answering.

Can you improve your skill at this art? Absolutely. With the help of your executive coach, you’ll be able to utilize the communication tool of powerful questions to help you achieve your goals.

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What Are Powerful Questions?

“Questioning is a uniquely powerful tool for unlocking value in organizations: It spurs learning and the exchange of ideas, it fuels innovation and performance improvement, it builds rapport and trust among team members. And it can mitigate business risk by uncovering unforeseen pitfalls and hazards,” according to Harvard Business Review.

A powerful question showcases many of these elements, it is:

  • open-ended;
  • asked without preconceived judgment or bias;
  • simple and clear.

Open-Ended Powerful Questions

A strong, powerful question elicits a response other than yes or no. Your question should probe at who, what, when, and how.

Giving the person answering an open-ended question allows them to provide you with more insight into the situation you’re discussing. Powerful questions will help shift focus from what’s wrong to what’s possible. They are a reflection of committed listening and understanding the other person’s perspective.  Powerful questions yield clarity or mediation of thinking and asked with genuine curiosity

Think of a powerful question as a way to help generate new ideas from everyone participating in the conversation. They are NOT statements disguised as questions.

Questions Asked Without Judgement

When forming a powerful question, approach it from a mindset that you need to learn something. Think like you’re a beginner, with no preconceived notions, biases, or judgments.

To practice this principle, check in with yourself before beginning the conversation to ensure your own emotions are in check and you’re not bringing emotional distortions to the conversation.

Leaders can rob themselves of learning more about a situation, their team, or a problem if they think you already know the answer and how a situation will play out. Asking a powerful question from a place of realizing you might not know the entire scope of a problem can help you gain impactful information for future decision-making.

Simple, Clear Questions

You will ask the best powerful questions when you form the inquiry with clear, simple words. When a question has too many words, the intent can get lost and confuse the person you want information from.

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What Other Types Of Questions Are There?

We all ask hundreds of questions a day without realizing it. But there are different types of questions that help us receive various kinds of answers.

There are many different types of questions, such as:

  • Open-Ended Questions
  • Yes or No Questions
  • Multiple Choice Questions
  • Leading Questions
  • Open-Ended Questions

Open-ended questions leave room for the person answering to use their judgment in deciding what to and not to share. Usually, this helps spark deeper discussion. For example, “What do you think we can do to solve this problem?”

Yes Or No Questions

Like it sounds, a yes or no question requires a yes or no answer from the person responding. A simple “yes or no” will get the person asking the question the answer they want. These can also be known as “polar questions.” For example, “Can you meet to discuss this project at 2 p.m.?”

Multiple Choice Questions

A multiple-choice question offers the person answering a few select answers to choose from. Multiple choice questions allow for some leeway for the person answering, but they are confused by the options given by the person asking the question.

For example, “Will we be ready to launch the new product in one or two months?” or “Would you like to revise the presentation or should I?”

Leading Questions

Leading questions are designed to guide the person responding to a particular outcome. The way the question is asked subtly encourages the respondent to answer in a certain way. Leading questions can help you frame a conversation in the positive or close a sale, but they can be dangerous as you inserted a preconceived notion into the conversation.

For example, “What’s your favorite part about working at our company?” or “This project is going to fail, isn’t it?”

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Examples Of Powerful Questions

During a conversation, not all questions will be powerful questions. You want to pepper them through the discussion to guide the conversation.

Once you gain practice asking powerful questions, you can ask them in the moment. But these will get you started strong:

Are you open to talking about this right now?

Before you dive into the meat of the conversation, check in with the other stakeholder to ensure they’re emotionally ready to handle this conversation. If the other person is upset, the conversation won’t be as productive.

What have you done to try and solve the problem?

As a leader, often employees or your co-founders will come to you with a problem they can’t seem to solve. Your job is to empower them to fix issues, not solve everything for them. By asking this question, it will shed light for the other person that they have or haven’t tried everything possible to fix the issue. It will also enlighten you about what’s been done.

Can you tell me more?

This simple follow-up question packs a lot of power. It shows the person you’re listening and want them to talk further. It also creates an environment for the person to feel safe in sharing their thoughts. This question can help unlock more information for you to help understand the issue at hand.

What would tell you that you’ve reached your goal?

When laying out what a successful project looks like, this powerful question will help your team measure and define success. More importantly, this question will help your team identify any roadblocks that may come up and anticipate how to fix them.

How can you see this differently?

By asking this question, you’re helping the other stakeholder generate the answer themselves, oppose to you providing it. They’re the one who has been in the trenches on the project, so they will have the best perspective about what could work, sometimes they just need to be led there.

Another bonus? When people come up with the idea themselves, they tend to be more invested in its outcome.

What do you think of the new project?

Asking what someone else thinks builds confidence in your team and allows them to feel safe sharing their honest opinions with them. Your team works in a different capacity than you and will have further insight into what’s working and what’s not.

Framing the question this way is essential — as there’s no negative or positive language to guide them towards an answer they think you want to hear.

What do you need?

Asking someone what they need feels extremely powerful to the receiver. This question creates a safe space for them to make a request and gain access to the tool they need to be successful.

What can I do to be a better leader of this group?

As a leader, asking for feedback in a way that allows your team to feel safe sharing their opinions will help you serve them better and help your organizational culture flourish.

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How To Reframe A Question To Make It Powerful

The art of asking powerful questions takes practice. While you are flexing this muscle, you will want to think of ways to reframe questions you’ve already been asking to make them more powerful.

For example, if you feel a project succeeded, you may feel inclined to ask someone on your team, “What helped this project succeed?” But this question is loaded and tells the person you’re asking you already think it succeeded, leading them to give you the answer you want.

Reframing the question to ask, “What do you think of the new project?” or “What do you think worked and what didn’t about this project?” will allow the respondent to share their true feelings and provide you with new insights and ideas.

When attempting to reframe any question, think of the other types of questions: yes or no, multiple-choice, or leading questions. If your inquiry fits in those buckets, it might not be powerful. Reframe your question to be more open-ended, without any negative or positive bias.

Pitfalls To Avoid When Asking Questions

Your best questions will be formed in the moment. But you can apply all of these tools while asking them. So avoid over-planning a conversation. At the same time, it’s good to have a few questions prepared, but you don’t want the conversation to feel like the person is answering a questionnaire. Leave room for valuable follow-up questions during your talk.

Before asking your question, check any preconceived notions you may have. Even if you think you know the answer, approach the question as if you’ll learn something new with the answer.

Keep in mind that even asking a question with “why” in front is not an open-ended question. It is often a way of communicating disbelief, implying that it’s wrong. “Why” questions have an undertone of shaming and it suggests the idea of finding blame. It puts the person answering on the defense and into contemplation.⁠

Instead of using a ‘why’ question, try framing the question like this: ⁠

“What is it that attracts you to this option at this time?’”
“How did you arrive at this decision?”
“Where can you…”

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How An Executive Coach Can Help

Asking powerful questions of your team can unlock a new, powerful tool for you as a leader. But like all communication tools, this takes practice. Working with an executive coach can help you hone this skill.

As your executive coach, I sit in on conversations you have with your team and can help you prep and then reflect on these conversations. A big part of these conversations will be how you ask powerful questions.

Q&A

What Are Powerful Questions?

A powerful question showcases many of these elements, it is:

  • open-ended;
  • asked without preconceived judgment or bias;
  • simple and clear.

Powerful questions unlock insights about your business and help facilitate bonding between you and the person answering.

What Type Of Questions Are There?

In addition to powerful questions, there are:

  • Open-ended Questions
  • Yes or No Questions
  • Multiple Choice Questions
  • Leading Questions

How Can I ReFrame A Question To Make It Powerful?

If you want to reframe your question to be more powerful, think about the type of answer it elicits. Did you place any negative or positive words in the question that could make it a leading question? Think about how this question can help generate new ideas.