By Mystie Johnson Foote, MD, MBA
One of my favorite powerful questions evokes a pause to consider a new possibility. Whether it is asked of me or if I ask another, there is a magical moment of awareness that anything is possible.
Powerful questions typically start with “what”, “how” or “if” and are open ended. A well-used powerful question never suggests a solution or justifies why it was asked, it simply asks. How you ask a question can pre-determine the response. For instance, when you ask a question, does it sound something like this, “What would you do differently, because you said they were confrontational and you felt defensive, so I want to know if there might be another way for you to respond?” Now, think of what would be possible if you instead asked, “What would you do differently?” Notice right now how you reacted to both questions. Which one made you feel defensive? Which one made you pause to dig deeper into your own use of powerful questions?
As I was learning to integrate coaching into my leadership, I practiced using powerful questions at home, mainly with my son (he was 9 years old at the time). He would tell me about something that happened at school, and I would drop a powerful question on him. After a few times, he caught on and would tell me I was “doing it again.” A few years later, we were sharing our day with each other, and I described an interaction with a colleague that didn’t go the way I wanted it to. And he dropped a powerful question on me! It was one that allowed me to see a new perspective and create the action needed to move forward. He did not need to know anything about the work I was doing. Flash forward to today, he is a senior in high school. When he is contemplating something troubling or difficult for him, he will ask for a powerful question to help him sort things out. I do not need to know exactly what he is experiencing to ask questions from a place of curiosity that would lead him to his own insight that brings a solution that he can be accountable for.
If you do a search for “powerful questions,” you will undoubtedly find information describing how you can lead or coach using powerful questions. The application of powerful questions most certainly extends beyond the workplace. It is a practice that will support and enhance any relationship that depends on trust. By asking a powerful question, you invite others into a new level of conversation and connection that creates space to grow together.
Are you wondering what my favorite powerful question is? It can be any question asked in curiosity without an expectation of what the “right” answer is that empowers another to develop their own awareness bringing forth authentic actions to nurture all relationships.
My question to you, what is possible for you now?