The Benefits of Being Asked the Right Questions

Ken Larson

Ken Larson

You’ve heard the expression before — it’s not necessarily what you say that matters, it’s how you say it. This is especially true in an executive coaching relationship. If an executive coach asks you the right questions in the right way … you’ll walk away with a deeper knowledge of yourself and your business. As the client, being guided by the right kinds of questions is critical to a successful coaching experience.

What Are the Right Kinds of Questions?

[bctt tweet=”Effective questions are designed to help you consider your challenges in as many ways as possible.” username=”coachkenlarson”] They’ll generate invaluable “aha” moments of sudden clarity and insight. In this way, effective questioning can stimulate real motivation for change.

Why vs. What Questions

But there are certain types of questions, and ways of asking them, that can hinder discovery and clarity. For example, think about how you respond when someone asks you a ‘why’ question— Why would you do that? Why do you think that? Why did you make that decision? It’s common for people be on the defensive in those situations. Starting questions with ‘why’ implies subtle judgment and can seem confrontational, whether it’s intended or not. Often, it feels accusative, making people reply (in a panic) with the first thing that comes to mind … which is rarely insightful. Instead, an executive coach, or any leader, should be asking ‘what’ or ‘how’ questions — What might have brought you to that decision? What options do you have? What might be the results of those options? Being able to ask the right questions means the difference between a productive learning experience vs. what can feel like an interrogation. With this approach, executive coaches learn to understand their clients on a level very few others ever will. And, more importantly, to effectively reach and surmount the crux of any issue. The goal is to ask a number of ‘what’ or ‘how’ questions until you arrive at the moment of, “You know what, I never thought of it that way!” That’s a breakthrough.

What Else Happens When Questions Are Asked the Right Way?

  • Discovery — You’re able to uncover and examine habits and patterns of behavior that either get in your way, or are under-utilized.
  • Widened Perceptions — Your regular thinking is challenged, until you are nudged out of your comfort zone and able to assess all angles and new viewpoints.
  • Independence — You’ll become self-reliant and less dependent on your coach, putting you in position to independently make the best decisions possible.
  • Direction — You’ll be able to identify what you need to focus on, the best course of action, and the logical next step that will set you on a successful path.
As a leader, imagine the benefit of transferring this technique to those around you, such as your colleagues, employees, or even your friends and family. Being able to stop yourself from asking confrontational ‘why’ questions and converting them into ‘what’ or ‘how’ questions is a useful skill to practice, especially if you often find yourself in unproductive conversations. There are questions that will open the dialogue and ones that will quickly close it — use ‘why’ sparingly if you want to avoid the latter.
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