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Author's profile photo Jason Cao

Coach’s Corner – What Questions Do You Have?

Is there such a thing as asking a bad question?
Well, according to the teachings of Confucius, “The person who asks a question is a fool for a minute, the person who does not is a fool for life.” What this tells us is that questions should be asked, because they help us gather information and gain knowledge, satisfy our curiosity, and helps us avoid making wrong assumptions. I’ll take it one step further to say that asking questions is a fundamental skill in communication, because it lets others know we’re interested and we’re listening. By asking questions to those we engage, we are helping to build trust and strengthen the relationship.
However, not all questions are the same, meaning they offer different value depending on the situation. In coaching, where the value of questioning is to help our clients reflect and explore options, and decide on the appropriate actions that will help them achieve their goals, the question and how coaches ask it is paramount. I think you’ll also agree that in all other walks of life there is such a thing as asking a better question.
Questions to avoid:
  • Low-value: “How are you?” My apologies if I’ve asked you this well-meaning, but useless, question before. This is a superficial question because most of the time, the person asking the question doesn’t expect an insightful answer, and therefore the person who answers the question doesn’t offer anything truthful or insightful.
  • Absolute or Leading: “Why do you always do that?” Using absolute terms like “always” or “never” puts others on the defensive, and this is not a good position to encourage others to share information. These questions restrict how others can answer, and how receptive you will be to their answers.
  • Self-Qualifying: “Does that make sense?” Questions like this make the speaker seem uncertain of what they just said. Worse, it makes the listener doubt whether they fully understood or appreciate what they were just told.
If you catch yourself asking these types of questions, ask yourself: How can I reduce or prevent myself from doing this? What alternatives can I use to accomplish my goal?
Better questions are:
  • Easy to understand. Try using simple and basic terms so others know what you’re asking. Keep your questions short and succinct. Even 2-word questions like “What’s next?” can be very impactful. Note ‘easy to understand’ doesn’t mean ‘easy to answer.’ ๐Ÿ™‚
  • Open to different answers. Curiosity drives learning and innovation, and is the ‘appetite of our minds.’ Without making assumptions or expectations, there is a time for Yes-No questions, and an even better time to be delighted by whatever response we get back.
  • More valuable for the person who answers the question. Coaches are trained and motivated to help their clients discover insights, revelations and self-enlightenment, and they do this by asking powerful questions. Perhaps everyone else doesn’t need to be this dramatic, but adopting the coaching-mindset in our everyday lives through the practice of prompting pause and reflection can be a wonderful gift to others. “What haven’t you thought of yet?”
The simple but powerful action of being impeccable with your words (from Don Miguel Ruiz’ The Four Agreements) means we have a choice to either make a large or small impact on others. I advocate making a big impact by intentionally choosing the words we use to communicate with others. Crafting the questions we ask is a wonderful way of honouring those with whom we engage.
Let me know in the Comments section below: What is your most powerful question?
Related Coach’s Corner posts:
Check out more blog posts in this series: Coach’s Corner.

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      Author's profile photo Sumedha Varma
      Sumedha Varma

      Love this @Jason Cao. Book marking

      Author's profile photo Jason Cao
      Jason Cao
      Blog Post Author

      Thanks for reading the post Sumedha Varma ! Please also share your favourite and most powerful question if you would like. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Author's profile photo Sumedha Varma
      Sumedha Varma

      Its difficult to choose frankly but I would say - What havenโ€™t you thought of yet?

      Author's profile photo Daniel Wroblewski
      Daniel Wroblewski

      I was in the news business. People always would ask if an article was "objective". Well, it may or may not have been, but newspapers are much more "subjective" by the articles they choose to write about, even if the articles are themselves "objective".

      I think the same thing is true with questions people ask -- there are better or worse designed and misleading questions, but people are much more limiting and narrow-minded and even hurtful by the choice of topics and ideas that they choose to question in the first place.

      Author's profile photo Jason Cao
      Jason Cao
      Blog Post Author

      Thanks for sharing this Daniel! Yes, it seems to depend on motives (and in the case of news, what sells), and drives a lot of unethical and undesirable behaviours in people. Good critical thinking skills and asking good questions only help in our efforts to seek truth, and not be misled. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Author's profile photo Anne Grivas
      Anne Grivas

      Thanks for the great blog!ย  Taking a moment to reflect on whether our questions are honoring the person we are speaking with is diamonds!ย  A favorite coaching question of mine is "Think of someone you truly respect and admire. How would they look differently at the situation?"

      Author's profile photo Jason Cao
      Jason Cao
      Blog Post Author

      Hi Anne Grivas ! Thank you for reading the post and for your comment!
      I especially like your coaching question - it really gives them no excuses or limits (especially those they've placed on themselves). ๐Ÿคฉ