Here are two possible debriefs after a meeting that didn’t go so well. As you read these, reflect on which one you use more often.
My colleague: That was a terrible meeting! I’ve seen you do an amazing job in others – what happened today? I think the way it started threw you off. Have you ever thought of trying…
I had lost him at ‘terrible meeting’. My defences were up and I wasn’t listening.
Colleague: What did you think of that?
Me: It was such a disaster!
Colleague: What was disastrous about it?
Me: I just wasn’t myself. I know I can do better.
Colleague: So, what happened today?
Same conversation. Different approaches. Completely different outcomes.
Makes me think: Questions can be so much more powerful than answers.
- Questions create the opportunity to create one’s own path to change. And this works because people don’t resist change, they resist BEing changed (Peter Bregman at WBECS 2021). So often, we share advice and suggestions with the best intentions. We’ve ‘been there, done that’, we want to save time and think it will be faster if we share suggestions, we don’t want others to make the same mistakes we have – unfortunately, the advice doesn’t always work. Because each person’s context is different, their learning path is different and their reasons to trip up are different. Questions allow them to explore all of this, and find their own route to self-correct.
- Answering the right questions creates new insight, expanded awareness, and ownership and belief in the path to change that emerges from there. Have you noticed that when you offer advice, you need to almost build a case for the person to follow your advice? But when someone answers a question, they find the trail of insight, and then they slowly convince themselves to follow the path that emerges. Nothing can compete with the ownership for action that comes from there.
- Over time, engaging with questions and finding their own answers helps people develop the deep knowing that their answers lie within, and the ability to tap that source for answers whenever they’re stuck. With so many of my coaching clients, one of the most significant outcomes from the coaching journey is this confidence that they have their own best answers.
Leaders who can bring this approach to leading enable growth for their teams, and confidence in their own abilities and reduced dependence on the leader. This allows team members to take on more, and eventually creates the space for the leader’s own growth and elevation.
These are the same principles that make coaching so powerful. There is no advice or guidance, yet there is space for inspired change. The questions in the coaching context, particularly when asked with curiosity and no judgement, create the space for following the coachee’s agenda, allowing them to reflect and find their own insights, expand their awareness and create ownership for action.
What’s your experience leading with questions?