The Power of Asking FRONT2Oprah Winfrey was recently named by Forbes as #1 on the Celebrity 100 list. Her net worth is reported at $2.8 billion. Obviously she’s ambitious, resilient, smart – so are a lot of other celebrities. But Oprah has a unique way of connecting with people (her guests and audience) that gets celebrities like Lance Armstrong to confess publicly. What does she do? She connects and influences others through the use of powerful questions.

Here are ten ways to use great questions at work:

Inspire Creativity & Innovation

Statements can cause people to judge (agree or disagree) while questions help people tap into the part of the brain that is creative. Ask these questions:

Sell Your Product or Idea

Questions help us better understand the needs of our customers:

What are the most pressing issues or challenges you face?
If we were to create the perfect solution for you what would that look like?
Why is this need area important to you?
Improve decision-making

Organizations are getting flatter hierarchies and wider span of controls. We can no longer afford to hold on to decision making authority or expect to be the expert in every situation. Tap into the expertise of those closest to the issues:

What are your criteria for making this decision? Why?
What options did you consider and reject?
What assumptions have we made that we need to test?
Create a Learning Culture

The ability to take calculated risks and rapidly test and learn from failures is a key trait of learning organizations and successful leaders:

What did we learn from this situation?
What would we do differently in the future?
How and where else can we apply this learning for greater success?
Direct Focus

Leaders have great power to direct the conversation in a way that builds a positive vision of what’s possible:

What’s working well in this situation?
What did we do to create that positive outcome?
What could be a vision for this project that would really excite you to be part of it?
Engage and Influence

Working across organizational boundaries can sometimes feel like the battle lines are drawn as each area has unique goals. Questions help us influence others over whom we have no authority:

What are your goals in this situation?
What are some constraints you’re facing and what would be possible if they were removed?
How can I support you in that?
Develop Others

The Socratic method is well-known for helping learning stick. Questions are critical in the coaching process:

What does success look like in this project to you?
Which of your strengths will be critical to leverage?
What support do you need from me?
Get Commitment to Change

The greatest challenge to any major change initiative is changing human behavior. How well does telling people what to do work? To capture commitment to change, ask:

What are your objectives and goals? Why are they important to you?
How can we make sure that this initiative helps you achieve your goals?
What do you see as the enablers to implementation?
Motivate Ourselves

Are there times you wish you could better motivate yourself toward goals?

Why is this goal really important to me? What’s already working well?
What have I done to create that success?
What special talents or strengths do I have that can help me achieve my goals?
Grow in Our Own Self-Awareness

Self- awareness is critical to success. Ask yourself:

What are strengths I have that can be leveraged at work?
What brings me joy in the work that I do? What is a personal brand I can create for myself that inspires me?
How can my strengths taken to an extreme become derailers for me?
The above are thought-starters. I encourage you to print this out. Create your own list.

The Challenge

Asking good questions is hard. It requires a shift in our own mindset. We have to let go of three ego needs:

The need to be superior or to prove ourselves (e.g. I’m the smartest person in the room so let me tell you everything I know).
The need to control outcomes (e.g. the best and most efficient way to do this is my way, so let me just help you by telling you what to do).
The need for perfection without any tolerance for failure (e.g. we have to do this perfectly because anything less than success will make me look bad).

Best Selling Book The Power of Asking “Creating All That You Deserve”