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:
- Brevity is power. Blabbing softens the impact of powerful questions.
- Embrace discomfort. It takes courage to ask powerful questions. The need to blab reflects personal discomfort.
- Cause shifts in thinking.
- Create tipping points.
- Confront inconsistencies.
- Challenge comfortable ideas.
- Begin with “What” or “How.”
- 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.
You are right Dan. Once you raise the question, stop talking and have the patience to listen. I think the question should be simple. In fact, it depends upon who is the person responding the question. Understanding his intelligence and knowledge, a question can be created. More importantly, the language and tone should convey the right message to the receiver. Many times, the person asking questions appear to test the knowledge of another person. So, it is important to ask the question politely.
I have seen that simple question has immense power than the complex question. The complex question perhaps loses its charm. Finally, the intention behind asking question plays the major role in the context.
Thanks Dr. Gupta. Don’t make people feel they are being tested.
There’s a huge difference between a question that is uncomfortable because it probes important issues and a question that is uncomfortable because it makes someone feel stupid.
Love this distinction – and sometimes depends on the receiver. The more trust there is in the relationship, the better the distinction. Also, in teaching, we call that silence “wait time” and it is critical in a classroom so that all student have a chance to ponder and don’t just quit because of the speedy processors.
Dan, Thank you for being vulnerable. When we are willing to face a mistake openly, we have learned well from that experience.
Thanks rpope…. I find the lessons learned from failure stick with us.
Rarely do we learn from our successes, because they are easy to forget. Its the failures in our lives that we remember FOREVER and if we don’t there is usually someone there to remind us. LOL
Fear of silence really is often the culprit of getting thoughtful responses. Some people are just not comfortable with it in this day of constant noise and stimulation; and some are afraid it will be viewed as a passive stance in an aggressive world. If more Leaders encouraged conscious silence, I think the dynamic would change. Bill’s response to say out loud that ‘stop talking’ is the appropriate initial response, is key. This gives people permission to practice the skill and start to have it become a recognized positive strategy in our work life.
Thanks Mary Ellen. Love the expression “fear of silence.” For some reason it really hits me today.
Stop being afraid of silence. I can image asking myself, “Do I have something to say or am I afraid of silence?”
Listen twice as much as you talk (2 ears vs. 1 mouth) is good advice. Ask your question and hush, don’t try to fill the silence. Sometimes the resulting silence is the REAL answer you need, rather than the spoken answer you eventually get.
Thanks David. The 2 to 1 ratio is a minimum. During a one hour coaching conversation the coach might talk 20 minutes and the coachee might talk 40. We’re off base when the ration moves toward 1 to 1.
I have a habit of trying to explain why I am asking the question before allowing for response – and find myself leading toward the conclusion that I may have already reached instead of allowing the question alone to develop responses. A powerful question doesn’t need an explanation for the rationale from which it springs.
Great thoughts, Dan. Thank you
Thanks Doug. “A powerful question doesn’t need an explanation…” Nailed it!
I notice that less is more when talking is concerned.
Thanks Dan for sharing your learning during a coaching session. As a coach, I love what I learn in every coaching session. I think a question becomes powerful when it necessitates reflection, a space for silence when the responder(s) take the time in the moment to think about what was asked and create their response based on their perspectives, experience etc. These questions support our curiosity, our ability to be open to different ideas and to test assumptions we may have created in our own heads. These questions can create aha moments, even for the enquirer.
Thanks Kathy. It’s true. I often think that I learn more than the people I’m coaching.
You are right and I know your are right and I am still terrible at it…
This is probably one of my favorite things to do. Although sometimes uncomfortable, it is needed in some settings. I do this a lot when I am in meetings and people may be talking about an incident and then it trails off…with no resolution. I usually will bring it up again by asking a question. “Who is going to be responsible for this?” “What are we going to do about this?” “What happened with this?” There are times where people want to sweep things under the rug, when really we should be tackling the issue head on.
As they say, “Silence is Golden.”
Question is key to direct our target
Dan, I learned this first when I started in the collection industry. Ask the question (i.e., “How would you like to take care of this bill today?”) and say nothing else. The dead air could be ‘deafening.’ Little did I know that 25 years later as I entered coaching, this same lesson would be so valuable. Providing people the space in which to think, be uncomfortable if necessary, That space allows the ‘permeation time’ for the other party to do their work.
Thanks for the reminder. Nice to be back.