Questions:  The Jewel in the Coach’s Crown!
Excerpted with permission from Chapter 15 of “What Exceptional Executives Need to Know” by Elizabeth Jeffries

Note from Bob:  You will only need to read a few words of today’s post before deciding that you need to get your hands on my good friend Elizabeth Jeffries’s new book “What Exceptional Executives Need to Know” ASAP.  Click “HERE” to purchase her book today!

Answers put an end to conversations; questions ignite them.”

Ron Shaich, Founder, CEO Panera Bread

Reasons Why People Have Trouble Asking Questions

Have you noticed that most of us seem to believe the most important person in our life is ourselves?  Many of us love to talk about ourselves, don’t we?  Let someone ask you one question, and generally you are off and running?

On the flip side of the coin, however, is our challenge with asking questions of other people. Are we so focused on ourselves that we don’t think of others? Are we curious enough to explore  what someone else thinks, feels, has done, or wants to do?

Those may be some of the reasons, but there are definite barriers that also keep you from asking questions of others and may include:

• Asking questions can be risky. “I don’t know what the answer will be. I don’t know how a question will be received.”

• You are in a hurry. “Is my question going to open up a long conversation? I don’t have time for that.”

• You lack the skills. “I don’t want to seem like I’m interrogating a person. What happens after I ask a question and get a one-word answer? Now I have to ask another, and I’m not sure what to say. I’m not clear HOW to ask the question.”

• You lack curiosity. “I’m too busy getting things done and focusing on my to-do list. Curiosity is not on my agenda.”

• You work in a culture that doesn’t foster growth and curiosity. “My organization runs a tight ship. We all multitask and have dual roles and responsibility. Making time to explore another person or their reasons for doing something just doesn’t fit with us.”

Another thought here: Just because a person is more verbal and outgoing doesn’t mean they are skilled in asking questions and building relationships. The quietest introvert can be excellent at asking questions, listening, and making connections with others.

Sometimes you put walls up not to keep people out, but to see who cares enough to break them down.


Five Levels of Questions

Leadership is not as much about knowing the right answers as it is about knowing the right questions.

Bob Tiede, author of “Great Leaders Ask Great Questions”

Every question doesn’t work or isn’t appropriate in every situation. Sometimes you need a simple yes or no response. Sometimes you need explanation. Sometimes you need to go deeper and find out the real issue. As a coach to your team, it’s helpful if you know and understand all five levels of questions and when to use them. They move from simple, safe questions to deeper, more sensitive questions.

Safe Questions draw out information and relax the other person. Generally, they are easy and effortless to answer. Safe questions make the person feel comfortable with you. Their responses don’t require deep thought or analysis. Example: “How was your weekend, Joe?”

Closed questions are true/false, yes/no, or multiple-choice questions. They request a one- or two-word response. They are valuable for obtaining specific facts and enable you to control the conversation. However, used exclusively, they can make people feel interrogated. Example: “Did you finish the report?” Suggested beginnings for closed questions include “are,” “do,” “who,” “where,” and “which.”

Open questions are like essay questions, allowing the individual to elaborate. They cause the person to continue to share. They increase a person’s energy and often uncover a person’s hot button. Example: “What results did you get from that research?” Suggested beginnings for open questions include “what,” “how,” and “in what way.”

Interview questions zero in on a particular area or topic. They are more in depth and allow you to get closer to the person. They cause values to emerge, and you learn more about what a person believes. They are more intellectual than feeling. Example: “Where did you grow up, Steve?”

Congruent questions are sensitive, on target, and often cause great self-disclosure and breakthrough. They involve the feelings and emotions and bring about connection and relationships. Example: “What thoughts and feelings did that conversation spark in you, John?” Congruent questions are not always comfortable. However, with trust, patience, managing silence, and a high level of skill, the person will continue to respond. It’s best to ask this type of questions after a rapport is built.

Power Coaching Questions

Telling creates resistance. Asking creates relationships.

Andrew Sobel, coauthor of “Power Questions”

When coaching a team member, consider congruent questions when you want to:

• Build awareness and help your team member see an issue through a new lens.
“Are you open to a suggestion to see this differently?”
• Create new ideas. “What would it look like if …?”
• Shift the conversation to the other person. “Thanks for asking. How do you see the situation?”
• Focus the conversation on the right issues. “Let’s get back to the budget. What else do you need from me to get the information to the CFO by Monday?”
• Create deep, personal knowledge. “When did you first become aware of this fear?”
• Bring out feelings and emotions, not just ideas. “What part of that conversation causes you to feel angry?”
• Change behavior. “What would it take for you to …?”
• Touch on core values of the person. “How did you come to believe that?”

Note: If you already know the answer, it’s not a power question; it’s a leading question.

Favorite Questions to Understand Others’ Goals

Here are a few of my favorite questions to help better understand what your team member is interested in, what she wants to work toward, and how serious she is to work the coaching process with you:

• Would you please tell me your story?
• What would you like to focus on?
• What’s going on that makes you want to focus on that?
• What new skill would you like to learn or develop?
• What specific goal would you like to accomplish in the next six months?
• On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being “not at all” and 10 being “I’m all in,” how motivated are you to achieving this goal?
• What would it take to turn that 6 (or whatever score she gives) into a 10?
• What would a celebration look like when you achieve this goal?
• What obstacles would keep you from accomplishing that?
• What would it take to …?

Questions to Stimulate Thought

The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when one asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer.

Henry David Thoreau in his essay “Life Without Principle”

• What’s working for you right now?
• What’s not working?
• Tell me more.
• How would that work?
• What are your alternate choices?
• What are you afraid of?
• What are you passionate about?
• What are you really good at and still want to get better at?
• What area might you be stuck in and need new eyes to help you get unstuck?

The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.

Albert Einstein

The Power of Asking Questions of Yourself

To continue to increase self-awareness, it’s important to regularly ask yourself questions.

My favorite questions at the end of the day are:

• What went well today?
• What could I have done differently today?
• Who did I serve today?

Journaling both the questions and the answers leads to new opening and learning. For
instance, asking yourself what went well today gives you the opportunity to affirm yourself. Consequently, your confidence increases, and you are more likely to do this again. It’s anchored in your mind.

When asking yourself what you could have done differently today, you’ll pick up on small or big things that didn’t quite go as you would have liked. Recognizing these situations gives you the opportunity to do it differently next time, or to go back and make amends when appropriate. It’s best not to ask yourself what went wrong, as that creates a mindset of judging yourself. These questions are not about judging yourself. They are for reflection and learning.

As a growing servant leader, how about asking yourself who you served this day? Your
response to yourself will keep you on the path of thinking about and living the life of a servant leader.

Other examples of self-questions that are good for awareness and growth are:

• What brought me joy today?
• What was going on that caused me to respond critically to John in the meeting today?
• How well did I manage my time today?
• How well did I honor my boundaries today, saying “yes” and “no” appropriately?
• How was my language today? Was I specific in my conversations? Did any of my words
come across as judgmental?
• Did I eat mindfully today? When?

Elizabeth Jeffries, is an award-winning professional speaker, executive leadership coach and author.  She works with CEO’s, C-suite executives and physician leaders.  Her clients include health systems, service businesses, churches and professional associations.  You can connect with


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