What makes a powerful question?
Powerful questions we can define as ones that have a significant, positive impact on the quality and direction of a person’s thinking about issues important to them.
Based on analysis of hundreds of powerful questions and observing how coaches and mentors use them, the characteristics of a powerful question include being:
- Personal – it is about them, or about how they connect to an issue
- Resonant – it has an emotional impact
- Acute/ Incisive – it gets to the heart of the issue
- Reverberating – it stimulates reflection both in the moment and for some time afterwards
- Innocent – the intent of the questioner is not self-interested or derived from an agenda of their own
- Explicit – clearly and explicitly expressed
These characteristics make a convenient acronym – PRAIRIE.
Developing your skills in crafting powerful questions
Some simple ways to become more adept at crafting powerful questions are:
- Notice when questions you ask have strong impact. Reflect on how the question emerged for you and compare it to the criteria above.
- Ask fewer questions. This allows more time to focus on the quality of the questions you do ask.
- When you reflect upon a coaching or mentoring session, remind yourself of questions you asked. How could you have asked these questions in a way that made them more powerful? What alternative, powerful questions could you have asked?
- Build your own list of powerful questions – your own, from other coaches/ mentors and coaching/mentoring literature, and from elsewhere.
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