When in doubt, ask a question

When prospective coaching  clients ask me how coaching works, the short answer is: “It’s my job to ask you the right question at the right moment.” The humble question is a mighty tool, and here’s how you can use it, too.

A question is like an engine: it provides the energy to get you moving. And get you out of sticky situations. Here are my top 5 tips for using questions to keep clear, and get going:

  1. Never ask “why.” It’s confrontational, implying blame. Instead, ask “how” and “what.” (“How did that happen?” or “What’s that about?”) These are neutral, and open, and they’ll yield a lot better information and insight.
  2. Ask open questions. As a corollary to # 1, make sure to phrase your questions so that there is room enough for a big answer. (That’s when you get the nuggets that you weren’t expecting.) So, instead of: “When did the dog get out?,” ask “Can you tell me more about the dog getting out?”
  3. The killer free-writing prompt. When you’re feeling out of sorts (anxious, angry, confused . . . ), sit down for five minutes with a pen and piece of paper. Write at the top of the page: “What’s happening?” Write continuously for five minutes, without stopping, without removing your hand from the page. Even if you have to write “this is stupid” several times, you’ll eventually break through. You’ll gain insight, and you’ll clear the space to return to your work/life with energy and focus.
  4. When you’re cornered. People ask the darnedest questions. Inappropriately personal questions, confrontational questions, untimely questions. When you find yourself ambushed, at a loss for words, ask a question in return! You can ask a clarifying question (“Do you mean the Smith account or the Jones account?”). Or you can fall back on the generic: “What do you mean?” Or my personal favorite: “Why do you ask?” That shifts the burden for an answer back on the questioner.
  5. The killer question. When you’re completely, utterly sick and tired of being stuck, ask yourself: “What is the one question I’m afraid to ask myself?”

Read more about questions:
“The only question you need ever ask yourself”

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2 Responses to When in doubt, ask a question

  1. Linda August 8, 2013 at 3:34 pm #

    When in doubt, ask a question – love this. A reminder that anything is possible when choosing the right words. Very powerful!

  2. Ann Daly August 8, 2013 at 4:14 pm #

    You’re so right–language is a source of power!