The Power of a Good Question

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“What question can I answer?”… 

What do you mean? What’s the context? Let me think a second. 

Interested? Not surprising. That’s the power of the open-ended question. 

When you ask, “Do you have any questions?” you are asking a closed-ended, Yes/No question. Yes/No questions are a great way to shut down conversations, thinking, and exploration. The obvious reasons are the closed-ended nature of Yes/No; they limit engagement, drive towards convergent/simple answers, provide limited information in reply, and more. 

Yes/No questions effectiveness challenges: 

  • Provides Limited Information: Yes/No questions often elicit short and concise answers, providing limited information or insights. They don’t encourage respondents to elaborate or provide nuanced details, potentially missing out on valuable context.
  • Leading Bias: Yes/No questions can introduce bias or influence respondents towards a particular answer. How a question is phrased may unintentionally guide respondents to lean towards a certain response, compromising the objectivity of the question asked.
  • Create a Lack of Engagement: Yes/No questions can lead to a passive response from participants, as they only need to select one option without actively engaging in a conversation or providing additional input. This limits the opportunity for deeper exploration or discussion.
  • Incomplete Understanding: Yes/No questions may not fully capture the complexity of a situation or issue. They often need to be more concise on complex topics, making it difficult to understand the subject matter comprehensively.

There is a time and a place for Yes/No questions depending on the context and purpose of the research or conversation. Sometimes, they can be helpful for quick data collection or to confirm specific details.

References: 

“The Art of Asking Questions” by Terry J. Fadem

“The Science of Asking Questions” by Daniel Pink

We hate to be wrong! 

If we dig deeper, though, we find a more powerful reason why yes/no questions are not the right things to ask. We don’t like to admit we don’t know the answer.  

When someone asks me a Yes/No question, I have to fight an instinctive response to just say “Nope.” I mean, I’m smart, experienced, educated, a guy… 

The reluctance to admit not knowing the answer can stem from various psychological and social factors. While our individual experiences and perspectives may vary, here are some common reasons why we don’t like to admit we are wrong:

  • Fear of Judgment: People may fear being judged or perceived as incompetent if they admit not knowing the answer. This fear of negative evaluation can lead to a reluctance to admit uncertainty.
  • We Desire to Appear Knowledgeable: We have a natural inclination to appear knowledgeable and competent. Being knowledgeable contributes to our self-esteem. 
  • Societal Expectations: Societal norms and expectations often value having answers and being knowledgeable. This cultural pressure can make individuals hesitant to admit their lack of knowledge.
  • Fear of Repercussions: We may fear negative consequences, such as being overlooked for opportunities or facing criticism if we admit not knowing the answer.
  • Perceived Loss of Authority: Individuals in positions of authority or expertise (You know, like Agile Coaches…) may feel that admitting uncertainty undermines their credibility or authority. This can create reluctance to acknowledge gaps in knowledge.

References: 

“The Confidence Gap” by Russ Harris

“The Fear of Not Knowing: How to Embrace Uncertainty in Your Life and Work” by Irena Brignull

“Why We Make Mistakes: How We Look Without Seeing, Forget Things in Seconds, and Are All Pretty Sure We Are Way Above Average” by Joseph T. Hallinan

“The Art of Thinking Clearly” by Rolf Dobelli

“The Power of Not Knowing: How to Thrive in Uncertainty” by Jamie Holmes

What, not Any…

This is why, in my classes, I always ask, “What questions can I answer?” 

By shifting to this open-ended approach, I am inviting that there are questions and that it’s safe to ask them. In the professional coaching world, this is a kind of “Powerful Question.” 

The Power of Powerful Questions

Powerful questions are thought-provoking inquiries that encourage deep reflection, exploration, and insight. They challenge assumptions, stimulate critical thinking, and open new possibilities for growth, problem-solving, and decision-making. Powerful questions are open-ended, meaning they cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” Instead, they invite individuals to delve into their thoughts, emotions, and experiences, fostering meaningful conversations and facilitating transformative learning.

Attributes of a Powerful Question: 

  • Open-ended: They encourage expansive responses and invite individuals to share their thoughts, feelings, or experiences in depth.
  • Thought-provoking: They challenge existing beliefs, assumptions, or perspectives, stimulating deeper reflection and self-awareness.
  • Non-judgmental: They create a safe and supportive environment that allows individuals to explore ideas freely without fear of criticism or judgment.
  • Exploratory: They invite individuals to explore different angles, consider alternative viewpoints, and uncover hidden insights or possibilities.
  • Action-oriented: They inspire individuals to think about concrete steps or actions they can take to address challenges, achieve goals, or create positive change.

Not just for Professional Coaching

Powerful questions are not just for professional coaching. They can be used in coaching, mentoring, facilitation, teaching, and even as an advisor/consultant. Powerful questions facilitate self-discovery, promote learning, and encourage individuals to tap into their wisdom and resources.

Which leaves me with a final question to ask you, reader. 

“What reasons can you think not to use powerful questions in every aspect of your work?”

This has been a 🦍 Gorilla Coach 🦍 tips and techniques moment. Have a nice day. 

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