I was stirred to consider this question upon reading The Art of Powerful Questions by Eric E. Vogt, Juanita Brown, and David Isaacs. Part of the work of a coach is asking powerful questions, but what is that? We can see the result of a powerful question. It provokes new and more effective thinking and feeling. It pushes individuals to pursue deeper learning. It garners committed and bold action.
The article suggests three dimensions of powerful questions: the construction of the question (how it is phrased), the scope of the questions (tactical versus strategic), the assumptions of the question. These are important dimensions to consider, but there is an even more important underlying principle here. Questions are only as powerful as the inquiry processes behind it.
A properly constructed question with the right scope and assumptions will not go far if the asker and the askee are not prepared to inquire seriously into what is being investigated.
The better question then would be what is inquiry?
Inquiry is the ability to investigate our own ignorance in its variety of forms. The problem is that much of the kinds of ignorance we are use to facing can be easily solved by looking it up in Google or asking someone about it. A more common kind of ignorance encountered in coaching is the that which can’t be answered easily by simply consulting a book. It’s the kind that requires effort and energy on the part of the coach and client. And that’s hard.
To investigate requires a persistence, a willingness to look at the fallibility of our judgment, a willingness to apply reasoned thought, self-awareness, a willingness to triangulate with other sources of information, outlining the solution space and a whole range of other skills and capacities. Fortunately, these are all character traits we develop to some degree whenever we’re trying to figure something important out.
So turn on your investigative journalistic powers, and discover your powerful questions.