Which is more persuasive – a confident, assertive pitch or an unassuming question?
Surprisingly, research shows it’s the latter. The book Give and Take by Adam Grant talks about a fascinating set of studies that explore the power of questions – in selling, negotiations, eliciting commitment, and multiple other contexts.
Why do questions work to persuade? In our lives we are bombarded by messages trying to convince us – ads, fundraisers, telemarketers, social campaigns. Our natural response is to treat these with suspicion, and be on guard about the fact that someone else is trying to control our decision.
However, when asked a question (eg, What do you think of starting a daily gratitude exercise?), our natural response is to reflect on it. And as we do so, we are convinced by someone we trust – ourselves.
This increases our conviction in the idea we’ve arrived at, as well as the likelihood of following through with action. We are convinced that the motivation for change has come from within.
No surprise then that coaching is built on asking powerful questions.
Questions prompt reflection and unearth insight that the client didn’t have earlier. They lead to a better solution than any the coach can offer, because the client has so much more information about their own life.
And as clients craft an answer, their belief in it deepens, as does their own confidence that they are creative and resourceful. Over time, the latter leads to a greater sense of calm in the face of challenges, because the client has developed the belief that they can find their
The same strategy is equally useful for leaders coaching their teams to better performance.
Asking questions opens the space for collaboration, demonstrates trust and confidence in the team, and over time, helps them get better as they find their answers. And as leaders equip their teams to step up, they free up their own time to focus on bigger things.
The book The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier lays out a simple framework that leaders can use to bring questions into the way they communicate with their teams, and build their capacity (more details to follow in another post).
Have you used powerful questions in your work? We invite you to share your reflections on the role they’ve played for you.