Every coach I mentor wants to know the secret to asking a powerful question.
A coach will typically ask me some form of these two questions, back to back:
“How can I master powerful questioning? What can I say to phrase my questions so that they become more powerful?”
I usually reply, “Well, the first thing to do is ask one question at a time because questions automatically lose power when you stack them.”
We both get a good chuckle at that point, and I share other practical tips:

  • In your everyday conversations, take note of the questions you hear that make you stop and thoroughly ponder an answer.

One I heard recently: “What might happen if you could be more available?”

  • Study published works on the topic, not so you can ask prescribed questions but so you can familiarize yourself with what makes a question powerful.

My favorite resource is Coaching Questions: A Coach’s Guide to Powerful Asking Skills by Tony Stoltzfus.

  • Start most of your questions with “what” or “how” (during the exploratory phase) and “where” or “when” or “who” (during the progress and accountability phase).

What would more income bring you?
How will a new job change your situation?
Where can you find the information you need to take action?
When will you get that action step done?
Who will hold you accountable?

  • Avoid “why” questions.

They tend to illicit a closed-off, defensive posture that’s detrimental to the coaching process.

  • Don’t ask closed-ended questions (those that require a “yes” or “no”). “What” and “how” questions typically invite open-ended responses. It’s those open-ended responses, to which you actively listen, that will provoke your next powerful question.

Coaches come into my mentoring sessions wanting those practical tips. I like them, too!
But I’d be selfish not to share the secret that trumps all these practical tips.
I’ve shared it with all the coaches I’ve mentored, and I’d like to share it with you, too.

The secret to asking a powerful question is active listening

If you’re not listening actively, it’s difficult to ask a powerful question.
To learn more about active listening, click here.

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