Powerful questions can yield powerful insights. However, the nature of those questions will vary significantly based on the environment where they are asked, and the ultimate goal that the individual hopes to achieve by asking them.
I grew up around the media because my father is a photojournalist. If you watch a news conference, you may notice that journalists ask almost entirely yes-or-no questions. For example, this was one of the questions President Trump answered at a press conference just yesterday, “Thanks, Mr. President. I wanted to follow up on two things that you had said earlier in the cabinet room. The first was on TikTok, and the second was on coronavirus. On TikTok, you said that you wanted money for the US Treasury from the sale. Does that mean you expect the Chinese company to pay the US Treasury directly?”
Most lawyers are taught the same technique. On a cross-examination, lawyers are taught to ask yes-or-no questions to help them build their case or challenge a witness’ account of an event. An example of Hollywood’s take on a cross-examination can be seen below from the classic movie My Cousin Vinny:
However, when leading teams or in coaching an individual, which is an essential requirement of leadership, powerful questions are rarely “yes-or-no.” In fact, powerful questions are just the opposite, open ended, allowing the team or individual to work through and explore the answers.
This concept has been on my mind a lot lately. While we have no clear signposts in the middle of this pandemic, we know that it is far from over. And while the hope of returning to normal activities soon still remains high, there are many steps that need to take place before we will reach the finish line of this pandemic. So how do we process what is going on? How to we stay focused on both the present and the future? How do we connect with optimism and hope during a time such as this?
As you consider those questions, imagine how essential workers in our communities are answering these same questions. I think about my colleagues and friends who deliver care every day to patients during the pandemic. Have they had time to take a deep breath and process the loneliness, pain, and suffering? How can they connect to an optimistic mindset?
Over the course of the last month, our patient experience team has tried to give our clinical caregivers the space to do just that. We came up with prompts and suggested that our caregivers write down how they were feeling. Our caregivers appreciated this newfound space to think about what they have been experiencing over the past 5 months.
Again, powerful questions can yield powerful insights. One of the keys to asking questions that can be transformational is to ask them in a way that encourages reflection, exploration, and depth. So when working with your teams, don’t be a journalist at a news conference or a lawyer in a courtroom—be a leader.
KEY TAKEAWAY: Powerful questions usually start with the words, “What” or “How”. They are open-ended and encourage reflection, exploration, and depth.