How I Drained the Power from a Great Question

Bill said, “I remember you asked a really powerful question. I felt the energy go up.” He was reflecting on a coaching conversation I had with him and Kevin months ago.

Bill illustrated his point by pushing his hand in the air like a plane taking off. But then his hand leveled off and started descending.

He said, “Kevin and I remember you saying, “I’m just going to stop talking.” I had forgotten a basic rule of coaching. Ask a question and shut up.

But I had already blabbed too long. The question had lost most of its power.

I remember sitting with Bill* at a small table in Kevin’s office. Kevin* sat at his desk. None of us remember the question. All three of us remember the moment when I realized I had talked too long.

Kevin nodded while Bill said, “Now we tell each to just stop talking.”

Honor the question:

  1. Brevity is power. Blabbing softens the impact of powerful questions.
  2. Embrace discomfort. It takes courage to ask powerful questions. The need to blab reflects personal discomfort.

Powerful questions:

  1. Cause shifts in thinking.
  2. Create tipping points.  
  3. Confront inconsistencies.
  4. Challenge comfortable ideas.
  5. Begin with “What” or “How.”
  6. Provide opportunity to think, if the questioner stops talking.

The longer you talk – after asking a powerful question – the weaker the question becomes.

What makes a question powerful?

How might leaders ask powerful questions?

*Bill and Kevin are Principals of All4 Inc. Bill is CEO. Kevin is COO. Both are long-time friends with each other.