Questions – A Powerful Communication and Coaching Tool

Photo: personal collection.

From the moment when you become aware of that sound that your phone alarm produces in the morning until the end of the day – you ask yourself countless questions. Is it already time to get up? Will I be at work on time? Is it smart to do this or that? What must I say during that meeting? What will others think? Do they like me? If not, why not? Questions are tools that we use to better understand the world that we live in.

“Judge a man by his questions, rather than his answers”. – Voltaire

Since coaching is becoming more popular every day as an important strategy for people and team development in organizations, it is necessary to clarify how we can ask questions that will support change during the coaching process. Before that, we must learn a few things.

First: People must practice to use questions and not answers, to help others to grow and develop. Second: Believe that change is possible. Third: Every effective coach strongly believes that clients always have the answers to their own problems. Fourth: Be aware that we all have different perceptions of the world, and that our answers can largely vary. Every person needs to find his or her own answers. And that is where coaching starts.

Let me share an experience I recently had with one team. We had an interesting group conversation during a team coaching session. While we were trying to discover why people in this team had trust issues, few things show up. We spoke about listening and better communication in the team. Common topics, aren’t they? While we were trying to define the first small step for the team to gain one another’s trust and initiate better communication, one of the members came up with a very simple but important piece of advice.

“You know, we must speak more. Not about ourselves – that we normally do – but about others. I don’t know how to implement this, but I think that we can start with sincere questions. We must ask more, show that we care and that we want to understand, and hear every person’s opinion. I think this would be a great first step”.

And it was a great first step. Then we defined what kind of questions they were supposed to ask to be sure they were on the right track. The first one was: “How can we create a better team?”

Coaching questions

  1. Closed-ended vs open-ended questions. It is simple. Closed questions will close a dialogue, and open questions will open it. Close-ended: Do you think that your team is good? vs Open-ended: Tell me: what is your opinion about your team?
  2. Every word matters, so learn how to use words. The connections between the words that we use and our emotions are very strong. If you ask “why”, you might just get “because”. It is better to ask, “Please explain to me why you think/do that? Why is that important for our team?”
  3. Questioning is self-discovery. Questioning is the process of finding out who we are. Step back and examine yourself. Ask yourself what kind of colleague you are. What are your strengths, your blind spots? How developed is your ability to give constructive feedback? How do you treat others?
  4. Learn how to listen to people. When you know what to ask and how to ask, you must also know what to listen for and how. If you ask a question, and then do not listen to the answer, your question is useless.
  5. Seek first to understand. Make no assumptions. Ask. Clarify. Send a clear message: “I really want to hear and understand your answer”.
  6. Be patient and wait for answers.
  7. Use a polite tone and be aware of non-verbal communication. Remember that non-verbal communication speaks loudly.
  8. Believe in the process. Always remember that questioning can promote comprehension, and stimulate critical thinking.
  9. Questions will show others that you care about them.
  10. Conflict resolution is based on understanding another person’s point of view, and good questioning skills are vital in the process.
  11. Think about the goal you pursue. Questions can support the learning process, creativity, training and coaching, and they are powerful tools for communication for teams and individuals. A question can trigger change.

With all this said, I can’t help but wonder: can we get all the answers that we need? Probably not, but we can keep looking, keep exploring, and grow during that process.

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning”. – Albert Einstein

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