The ability to ask the right question at the right time is a great skill to have, regardless of who you are. If you are leading a team, then it is a must-have.
And, of course, both consultants and coaches ask questions to help their clients advance their success.
What is the difference then between a coach and a consultant? I have written articles about this before. This time I want to talk about it from a personal perspective. I also want to share with you some questions you can use with your team members.
Before I became a certified business coach, I had already consulted with a variety of companies. I had very nice successes as a consultant. For example, my first business turnaround was tough. But we managed to raise revenues by 41% in 2009 – in the midst of a very challenging economy.
By then, I had some personal development under my belt, and I had worked with a Coach myself. I felt like I knew a thing or two about coaching already.
Sometimes I Fell Into the Common “Consultant Trap”
Nonetheless, I sometimes fell into the common “consultant trap”:
- Analyze the situation – with fresh eyes, of course!
- Come up with a solution
- Propose the solution
- Support its implementation
This method may SEEM to be the fastest path to success. But most of the time it is not. That is the biggest thing I learned.
What Was My Biggest Shift?
What is the biggest shift I made as a result of going through a one-year-long training as a business coach?
The answer is simple: the biggest change was I learned to ask a lot more questions. And of course, they had to be the “right” questions.
I learned a better approach is to
- Learn about the situation/ vision/ plan … and yes, bring fresh eyes.
- Ask a lot of questions to excavate their vision, wants, fears, challenges, plans, obstacles, possibilities, …
- Support the leader/s to arrive at their own solution
- Support the leader/s in the implementation
When the person runs into a snag where they might be lacking experiences or resources we do some brainstorming. That gives me the opportunity to input some ideas without “taking over”. My ideas are not proposed as a solution. They are extra food for thought.
The second path which involves asking more questions may SEEM slower than the first one. But it is almost always faster. Above all, it is more effective and gives long-lasting results.
Why Are Questions So Successful At Creating Success?
Why? What is it about questions that make that happen?
The quick answer is that questions cause the other person to think it through. They come to their own conclusions. They come up with the plan – and then they have ownership of that plan. That is why I often refer to myself as the thinking partner of the person I work with.
What Kinds of Questions are Good Questions to Ask?
Having great questions at your disposal is likely helpful to you. Leaders who know how to help their people think matters through are more successful.
Which Questions Not to Ask
Don’t ask leading questions. For example:
- “Isn’t it true that …?”
- “Didn’t you …?”
Leading questions don’t prompt the same level of thinking. They often also don’t get honest, or at least not differentiated answers.
Speaking of differentiated answers: Questions the person can answer with “yes” or “no” are often not so useful. Open-ended, thought-provoking questions are much better.
Sometimes, I catch myself wanting to ask a yes/no question. There is a simple way to upgrade that question.
- Instead of asking “Are you happy with this result?” I ask”To what extent are you happy with this result?” or
- “On a scale of 1 – 10, how happy are you with this result?” – Instead of saying “yes” or “no”, the person might say “7”. Then I get to find out what is the difference between a “7” and a “10”.
With a yes/no question I would not have learned about that difference.
Ask the Right Question at the Right Time
Another tip is that the level of question one asks must be appropriate for the person and situation.
Communication starters are great to break the ice and get familiar with each other.
Furthermore, there are questions about
- Determing the next action steps
- Evaluating options
- Challenging ones current state of thinking
- Digging deeper
All the question-asking in the world makes no difference if one doesn’t do this well: listen!
Listen closely. If you pick up something between the lines, don’t assume you are right. Find out. Be curious.
Speaking of that…
What is the most powerful question I could ask you right now?