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Leadership Skill 2 Questioning

Being able to ask high quality and powerful questions is a critical skill for effective leadership. Questioning seems like it is an easy and obvious skill. But too often people confuse, speaking, telling instructing and giving advice with questioning. It is an advanced skill to be able to use inquiry to facilitate the self-actualization in another, which is one of the desired outcomes of leadership right?

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The art of questioning allows us to ask powerful questions that will invite the listener to go inside and to find or create the answer for themselves. This creates a more memorable experience for the listener and also ownership of his or her outcomes.

Most of us would like to think that we’re able to ask the occasional great question, but if I asked you, why is it important to ask powerful questions? What are the skills required to ask quality questions? And what kinds of questions are the best questions to ask? Would you know how to answer these questions? And more importantly, would you be able to engage in some high-level questioning skills?

In this blog I will share the benefits of asking powerful questions, the different type of questions you can ask to gain different types of information, and what key skills you will need to develop in order to ask quality questions in the moment when it really counts, taking your leadership to its next level.  

Why ask powerful questions?

Powerful questions allow us to understand, to connect, to clarify and more importantly to get to the heart of a matter. If we continue to ask surface questions, we will continue to get surface answers. If we want to truly understand or investigate something fully, then we must be willing to go to the depths with our questioning, to uncover what is really going on.

What can ​you do with powerful questions? 

With powerful questions you can gather highly valuable information to learn more, you can build stronger rapport and relationships with others, and you can lead people more effectively and assist them to learn and grow. Here are five specific benefits that arise from asking powerful questions…

  • Gather high quality information, with precision and specificity.
  • Define what a person means by the words they use to gain clarity.  
  • ​Provoke creative thinking for problem solving.
  • ​Uncover resources to overcome barriers.
  • Engage the mind-heart and soul of a person to build meaning.
Quotation marks image white 03 - Leadership Skill 2 Questioning

​Powerful questions impact us, they awaken us, and they change us.

What’s the most powerful question you’ve ever been asked?

What kind of questions should I ask?

Well that really depends on the type of information you are looking for. Different questions will illicit different responses. We find it is always best to ask the question that is most relevant, timely, and specific to the content as possible. For questions to be really powerful and transformational they are personal and experiential, motivating, meaningful and evoke engagement in the listener.

Man with light bulbs - Leadership Skill 2 Questioning

Here are our top 10 most powerful kinds of questions...

  1. 1
    Open ended questions - To allow all the possibilities to emerge “Tell me about your experience?”
  2. 2
    Checking questions - To check that you have understood the information “So you said X?”
  3. 3
    Testing questions - Testing the validity of information “Have you made a commitment to this?​"
  4. 4
    Awareness questions - To bring awareness to the individual you are speaking with. “Did you just hear what you said?”  
  5. 5
    Precision questions - To clean up deletions, distortions, and generalisations. “What specifically do you mean by always?”
  6. 6
    Clarification questions - To gain clarity of information “What do you mean by X?”
  7. 7
    Solution focused questions - To focus on the solution rather than the problem “What do you need to do to get what you want?”
  8. 8
    Imaginative questions - To evoke problem solving thinking “What would you do right now if you had a magic wand?”
  9. 9
    Probing questions - Asking many questions to go deeper into a specific topic “What, When, Where, How, Why?”
  10. 10
    ​Meta questions - These are questions that ask about the structure of a person’s thinking not the content. Meta questions are powerful because you can enter the matrix of a person’s reality and understand how they are constructing it for themselves. These types of questions explore a person’s beliefs, values, feelings, thoughts, decisions, intentions, expectations, culture, memory, and identity.​​ "Tell me what you believe about that?"

​What kinds of questions may not always be useful? 

Remember that communication is the response you get. If you are asking questions that are not getting you the information you need, then they may not be high quality questions. Remember, it is important to build and maintain rapport when asking questions, it is important to keep things tentative (otherwise it may as well be a statement), and it is important not to set the listener up for failure whilst asking a question.

Here are our top 10 kinds of questions that may not always be useful to ask...

  1. 1
    Closed questions - Looking for one right answer “Is that your final answer?”
  2. 2
    Assuming questions - Assuming something in the question “You must really enjoy working?”
  3. 3
    Manipulative questions - Question with an implied expectation “We would like to come to a consensus on this, would you like that also?”
  4. 4
    Rhetorical questions - Asking a question to make a point without wanting an answer. “Is the pope catholic?” 
  5. 5
    ​Surface questions - Questions that do not go deep “Who did that?”​
  6. 6
    ​Convoluted questions - A question that is difficult to understand. “Comparing the present clock-reported time with what we previously discussed and made an agreement about, will you still be on time today?” ​
  7. 7
    Irrelevant questions - Questions that are not relevant to the conversation – a shift in focus. “Oh that reminds me did you hear about X?”.
  8. 8
    Problem focused questions - Evoking a negative emotional state. “Why did you do that?”
  9. 9
    Unimaginative questions - Limits possibilities. “Isn’t this the way we should do it?
  10. 10
    Leading questions - A question that prompts or encourages the answer you want or expect. “You’re going to vote for Donald Trump, aren’t you?”

How can I start asking more powerful questions?  

Asking powerful questions is a skill which means it can be learned. It is important to practice asking questions to become masterful at it. Here are our top three things you can practice which we believe will allow your questioning skills to reach superpower status.

  • Learn how to engage in high level listening... We cannot know what the next best question to ask is, if we are not paying attention to the speaker. It is so important to be present with the person we are listening to so we can ask questions which are relevant, timely and specific to what the person has just said. See our blog on Leadership Skill 1 Listening.
  • Maintain an attitude of curiosity... It is difficult to ask questions if we are not curious. When we lose our curiosity, we unconsciously tell ourselves that we have all the information we need or that further information is not really valuable. Curiosity drives questioning, you will know this if you ever encounter a 5-year-old learning about the world. Learn to stay curious.  
  • Model body language, tone of voice and facial expressions with the type of question you are asking... When asking a question, it is important to be congruent in your body language to facilitate effective communication. If you are asking someone “What do you get excited about?” in monotone with a dull expression on your face, then I’m not sure that your audience is really going to connect with their excitement. Powerful questions are often made powerful because the person asking the question models the desired outcome.    

Conclusion

Test your questioning skills now… go and spend 10 minutes speaking with a colleague and ask powerful questions throughout your conversation. If you would like to learn more about how to ask powerful questions, contact Modo today to ask about our Evolved Communication Training Program.

References: Meta Coaching – Dr Michael Hall.

About the Author Tamara Pickard

Tamara Pickard is an Executive Coach, Trainer and a Managing Director of Modo Coaching and Training, with many years of experience leading large organisations. Tamara is a certified Meta-Coach, Master NLP practitioner and experienced Enneagram facilitator, and her passion is to facilitate people to discover and actualise their highest potentials in their personal and professional lives.

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