“It is not the answer that enlightens, but the question.”                                                                                                             Decouvertes

Here’s something to think about; what is it that serves to drive creativity and innovation, that often becomes the catalyst for bringing about change in a person’s life, that enables each of us to better understand ourselves?  Don’t look for an answer, rather think about a question.  Nothing has more power to cause a complete mental turnaround than a question.  Powerful questions can serve to empower.  Formulated effectively they can shatter misconceptions, enhance clarity and turn challenges into opportunities.  Perhaps more importantly, when we ask great questions we provide an invaluable service to others – we give them the mental space to process their own thoughts.  So what makes a question powerful?

Mike Warden is a leader, visionary, artist, and lifelong student of personal transformation.  In a recent post he  proposes that questions are much like a river guide on a rafting expedition; the guide direct the path of the raft, guiding the others to paddle in one direction or another.  Likewise, through the questions we incorporate into our conversations we can send people in different directions to seek the answer.  Thus, through our questions, we can:

  • send people to their head to analyze data or gather facts.
  • send them to their emotions to reflect on what they are feeling. 
  • send them into their body to listen to what it is saying to them about their current state. 
  • send people into their heart, into their soul.  It is these questions that can alter our life and it is these questions that we will carry with us for a lifetime.   

So what do these questions look like and how are they created?  Warden provides us with four (4) essential traits: Powerful questions:

  1. Typically focus more on the person you’re talking to than on the situation you’re talking about. They zero-in on the deeper matter, on what really matters.
    • What do you really want here?
    • What’s important about this? 
    • What’s the deep truth you need to hang onto as you look at this?
  2. Are open-ended, and typically begin with the interrogative, “What”.  “What” questions tend to target the heart and the imagination.  By contrast, “Why” questions tend to take people into their heads and to trigger analysis.
    • What do you believe to be the issue holding us back?
    • What could be some first steps we take to resolve this issue?
    • What would be a milestone that would signal we are seeing progress?
  3. Always come from a place of authentic, open curiosity. They serve to inspire the other person’s own process of discovery. They don’t try to lead someone to any predetermined conclusion.
    • What strengths does your team bring to this situation?
    • What tools are currently available to us as we address this opportunity?
    • What would be the best/worst-case scenarios we will face?
  4. The most powerful questions are those that make no assumptions.  Sometimes they are considered the “dumb” question or the one that everyone wants to ask, but are hesitant to voice. 
    • What do we really mean by “making a profit”?
    • How will taking this action be reflective of our Mission and Vision?
    • What will we do differently in the future?

Steven Covey said it best, “If I were to summarize in one sentence the single most important principle I have learned in the field of interpersonal relations, it would be this:  Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”  Through questioning and listening we develop understanding, and it is through understanding that the most effective communication can be achieved.  Ask some questions this week and be sure to listen; you never know what you might learn!