What is the purpose of a question? Children ask hundreds of questions each day, but as we grow older, we ask less and less. Perhaps it is because the world isn’t as new to us anymore, or perhaps it is because we are afraid of the answers. We tend to ask questions that help us get from a to b: when is the meeting, where is dinner, what time do I need to get home? How often do we step back and ask why we are going from a to b, and whether we actually want to go from d to y instead. As coaches, our job is to ask great questions. A great question can evoke emotion that leads to change. It can encourage bravery and strength, which is often required to answer. A great question can spark a fundamental, or even simple, shift in how we live our lives. Some questions require deep connection and trust, while some questions are better asked by a stranger. By asking ourselves and each other better and more thoughtful questions, we can deepen our understanding of ourselves, of each other, and of the world.
In this three-part series, we’ll explore questions on each of those levels – self, others, and the world. Let’s start with the basics of a great question.
Anatomy of a Question
A great question should be simple, yet powerful. It is likely easier to start with what a question should not include. It should not include your own opinion, your experience, or advice. It shouldn’t lead the person in a particular direction, or be so closed that they’ll only answer with a few words. It should be direct, clear, and short.
It is important to remember that one question will rarely be enough. One coaching framework uses ‘the five whys’. It’s based on the premise that you need to ask why five times in order to get to the most real and honest answer.
Questions To The Self
Before we can ask questions of others, we must first question ourselves. Asking ourselves deep questions can be difficult, and can elicit thoughts and emotions that are easier to shut down or ignore. Yet to ask questions of others, we must first be willing to dig deep to ask questions of ourself.
Let me share 10 of my favorite questions for the self:
- How would the three people closest to me describe me?
- How would the three people that like me the least describe me?
- What was my biggest failure? What have I learned and changed (or not)? Why?
- Am I willing to take feedback from others? Why? Why not?
- What motivates me? Why?
- What is my biggest regret? Have I moved past it?
- What is stopping me from doing XYZ? Really, what?
- What are my own biases and prejudices?
- What am I really good at?
- What brings me joy?
Ask yourself: what questions do I need to answer to be able to bring my whole and best self into the world? Allow yourself to be vulnerable and deeply honest – you do not need to share your answers with anyone else (though there can be immense power in that). When we begin to ask ourselves more questions, we become more self-aware and we open the door to what could be. Change begins with discomfort, so we must create space to ask ourselves these questions. Whether you’re on a long walk alone, writing in a journal, or speaking out loud to a close friend – try answering these questions, or others that are on your mind, and see what happens. Only then, can we begin to ask deep questions of others. We’ll explore that next.