Updated: Jan 21, 2021
One of the skills of people leadership is the art of asking questions - questions that provoke thoughtfulness, questions that generate insight and understanding, questions that can uncover risks and hazards, questions that dispel limiting beliefs, questions that expose a range of options and solutions, questions that spur learning, questions that reveal the next action. It is a skill that can be honed and when done well, can awaken new possibilities, release untapped potential, and fuel innovation and improvement.
The skill becomes an art when it is based in natural inquisitiveness, an ability to read the room and the emotional intelligence to know the ideal question for the moment. In other words the power of a question is rooted in curiosity.
How do you develop this art? The good news, as reinforced by the HBR article, The Surprising Power of Questions by Alison Brooks and Leslie John, is that the act of asking questions and being curiosity are a virtuous cycle. Curiosity leads us to ask better questions and questions lead us to be more curious. So just start by asking your first question with genuine curiosity.
Here are some of my favorite questions to get you started with practicing the art of asking questions.
How are you really?
Are you fully present?
How will you know when it happens?
What is on your mind right now?
Generate insight and understanding:
What kind of X? (example: What kind of retrospective? What kind of conversation? What kind of job?)
What else about X?
What is important about that?
What happened? and then what?
Uncover risks and hazards:
What is at risk here?
What if you do? What if you don't?
What concerns you the most about X?
Dispel Limiting Beliefs:
What have you tried?
What is stopping you?
What is the story you are telling yourself?
What are you waiting for?
How did it go?
What did you discover?
What is the lesson / learning here?
What did you learn from this that will help you in the future?
What would you like to have happen?
If you knew you could not fail, what would you do?
What is possible here? What is just one more possibility?
What are other angles you can think of?
Reveal the Next Action:
What needs to happen for that to happen? What needs to happen now? Happen next?
What action will you take? And After that?
What will you do? By when will you do it?
What information do you need before you decide?
To practice curiosity, ask the question and then listen with your ears, your eyes and your heart to understand the person or situation a little bit more than you did before you asked the question.