Q Power: 9 ways to keep powerful questions powerful

Question and answer as teamwork

Questions are a prerequisite to learning.

Questions are a window into creativity and insight. 

Questions motivate fresh thinking.

Questions challenge outdated assumptions. 

Questions lead us to the future.

So says Eric E. Vogt, Juanita Brown and David Isaacs in their paper on The Art of Powerful Questions.  So my next question is: “Why are we so bad at it?”

Powerful questions, sometimes referred to as transformational questions, are the Cadillac of questions.  They elicit the greatest and most thoughtful answers and truly provide for fresh opportunities to learn about each other.  And that can be really, really uncomfortable in polite society.  

When I’m coaching a team or an individual and we go to work on how to connect with others in life and business, the biggest thing I see is how we can take the power out of powerful questions.  We want to know more; we want to create stronger relationships based on trust.  We want to move beyond fear to get to more wise, creative, and compassionate states of thinking.  And it’s fear of being impolite — of being too personal with another person — that limits our ability to truly serve that other person’s agenda. We use judgement as an opportunity to refrain from asking something because we think we know the answer already.  We get impatient and water things down with weak follow-up questions because, well, it’s safer, easier and faster.  Just gimme the answer!

Hey, this is different.  It’s hard and it’s also likely that the other person has never been given the opportunity to be asked a truly powerful question and then to actually get to answer it!  What would it be like if you could change a person’s life with just one question?  

How to keep the power in Power Qs:

  1. Ask the question the way it was designed.
    ~ Is it about discovery? Is it about innovation?
  2. Powerful questions begin with what, how and sometimes why?
    ~ Keep them that way! Immediate, closed-question follow-ups are a no-go!
  3. Who are you asking the question for: you or your counterpoint?
    ~ Be aware of the true purpose of a question. Is it honoring their agenda or yours?
  4. Just ask it.
    ~ Stop explaining why you are about to ask your next question.
  5. Ask your powerful questions one at a time.
    ~ Slow down, killer.  It takes 8-12 seconds to answer a Power Q!
  6. Be patient.
    ~ Let it hang there. Give learning a chance. For you and them.
  7. Be confident in your curiosity.
    ~ Amp down that judgement crutch. Ask from your curious and confident self.
  8. Be in the moment with just this question.
    ~ Mind. Heart. And body. Is your heart racing? Are your fists clenched? Relax.
  9. Breathe.  Listen.  Engage.  …Repeat.
    ~ Simple steps.  Take a breath. Listen to them…and you. Then land another Power Q.

These nine tips can be a lot to process.  So, just pick one to start. Practice it. Then, try it out on someone.  Friends, family, co-workers and significant others are all perfect conversational partners.  (Besides, why do we save our best conversations for strangers? Let’s let loved ones in on this shift!)

Legendary jazz musician Charlie Parker said; “You’ve got to learn your instrument. Then, you practice, practice, practice. And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail.” What’s the lesson here?  It’s that simple, powerful questions — their creation and their architecture — take practice.  And ultimately they take performance!  Asking them, landing them and letting them work means you still have to try them on and wear them.  Now, go get your conversational wardrobe refitted for power.  It’s an outfit that will look great on you, and you just might change someone’s life (and yours).

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