All Questions Are Not Created Equally

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By Eileen Habelow, Ph.D.

I am a huge fan of using questions in coaching and developing talent. 

I work with a lot of really smart people at really innovative companies doing really amazing things. When someone comes to me with a challenge, the most efficient way to get something done is to do it myself or at least tell the person what I would do to solve the problem. The problem with that approach is the other person really doesn’t learn anything – they have not figured out anything on their own, and therefore, the idea is not theirs. It’s mine.

Most of us understand this, conceptually, and nod our heads in support of the idea of coaching via questioning. But, how committed are we to practicing the skill? And, even if we are committed to asking questions rather than giving answers, are we genuinely interested in what the other person is thinking?

Let me put it another way. When you ‘coach’ using questions, are you asking questions that will attempt to lead the person down a path? Do you already know what you would do? And, are you using questions to get the other person to get to your endpoint?

Those would be called leading questions. And, yes, leading questions might be better than telling someone what to do.

But, all questions are not created equally.

When you use leading questions to get the person with whom you are working to where you wanted them to get, that is not coaching. That is manipulating. It is determining the best answer and getting the person to think like you think.

What if, instead of leading questions designed to manipulate someone into finding your answer, you ask questions that reflect a genuine curiosity about what the other person knows and thinks about the topic? What if you stay wide open to any path that works, even if it is different from your desired or preferred approach? What if you set aside presumptions that there is only one way to accomplish a goal?

How much more might you learn from the other person? How much more will that person’s thinking be developed? How much more ownership will that person feel for the solution and the work it takes to get there? How much more innovation might we add to the workplace, in general?

How can you use GENUINE questions to develop those around you?

• The Six Types of Socratic Questioning

• The Aha Moment

• The Difference Between Coaching and Teaching

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