The Key To Better Answers Is Asking Better Questions

The question “Why?” has two quite different meanings. One looks backwards for a cause and treats our behavior as determined by prior events. The other looks forward for a purpose and treats our behavior as a subject to our free will…We can choose to look back or to look forward.   - Getting to Yes

Any question requires us to seek out and deliver an answer. Excellent coaches ask excellent questions - succinct, curious, poignant, powerful. These are questions that send clients to a land of discovery and possibility.  A new uncharted territory that uncovers an answer that is surprising to the client.

Early in my coaches training, the curriculum designed to ask good questions seemed ridiculous. And yet, I found myself stumbling. I quickly learned that I defaulted to asking yes/no questions as a way to get quick answers. Or I would offer up a set of options and ask someone to choose between my preconceived ideas. Both of these tactics limited the potential of good responses. They elicited easy, thoughtless responses. Things moved forward, but very slowly and with a very narrow focus. Past knowledge limited the answers.

To overcome this bad habit, I forced myself to ask questions that began with “What.”

What is possible?

What is most important to you?

What would success look like for you?

What is the best case scenario?

Second, I eliminated “Why” from my vocabulary. I practiced reframing any question beginning with “Why” into the “What” framework.

“Why did you do that?” became “What is driving your behavior?”

“Why do you want that?” evolved to “What is important to you about that?”

“Why should we do this? shifted in “What does this change accomplish?”

Third, I had to learn to keep things simple. I came to understand that my lengthy questions sought to do more than seek answers. I posed questions that would showcase my knowledge and lead to my answer. I was already on a path that would rarely shift regardless of another person's responses. Simplicity came by from reducing the length of all my questions to less than 10 words. Shorter questions led to more expansive responses. I gave up control and let my clients take the lead in the direction of our discovery.

The easiest way to change the answers you receive is to change the questions you are asking. Focus on questions that seek forward looking answers.