The Strength of Powerful Questions

downloadA couple of months ago I attended the training ‘Coaching Agile Teams 3.0‘ given by Michael Spayd and Michael Hamman of the Agile Coaching Institute. Part of this training was the three levels of listening which resulted in this blogpost. Today I participated in the first day of their other training ‘Managing Agile Environments‘. Again I was in the fortunate circumstance to witness the strength and value of ‘powerful questions’, this posts topic.

The Three Levels of Listening

Level 1 listening

  • It’s all about my thoughts, my judgments, my feelings, and my expertise;
  • When a person listens at level 1, they are actually listening to the sound of their own inner voice;
  • You might hear the other person talk, but you’re continuously connecting the words to your own experiences, opinions, judgments, feelings etc.

Level 2 listening

  • Hard-wired connection to other, lose awareness of outside world;
  • Listening at level 2 is all about focus. All of the attention is directed in one way;
  • At level 2 you really listen intently to every word and nuance in the conversation. You should try to ignore your inner dialogue. This will only distract you from truly listening. You feel the flow of the conversation and are focused on what is really said. You interpret the words in the context of the other person.

Level 3 listening

  • Soft focus on other, aware of whole environment, including your own intuition;
  • At level 3 listening you are aware of the energy between you and others;
  • It’s about being aware of the environment without decreasing the quality of the conversation.

Powerful Questions

During the training we practiced conversations while you were listening at level 2. Recommended questions to use during these conversations are ‘powerful questions’.

Powerful questions:

  • Are truly open;
  • Are not asked with a “correct answer” in mind;
  • Invite introspection;
  • May reveal additional solutions;
  • Lead to greater creativity and insights;
  • Generates curiosity in the listener;
  • Is thought-provoking;
  • Touches a deep meaning.

Powerful questions send a person in the direction of discovery, not to a specific destination

Examples of powerful questions

  • What is stopping you?
  • What is at risk?
  • What is the worst/best that could happen?
  • What would an experiment look like?
  • What might help look like?
  • If you got it, what would you have?
  • What’s already working that you can build on?

An Inspiring Demonstration

Reading these powerful questions might already be interesting, but seeing them being used in real life and truly experience their strength was tremendously inspiring. I was in the fortunate circumstance to witness a coaching conversation Michael Spayd had with a colleague of mine. During this conversation Michael used powerful questions to explore the topic at hand. Hereby having a complete focus on my colleague. Their really was a hard-wired connection.

Although a group of 11 people were watching, my colleague told us afterwards he really had the feeling he was alone in the room with Michael. Although Michael probably could have provided some solutions, he never did. He kept encouraging my colleague to explore the problem he shared with us. As a result my colleague made a deep-dive into the shared problem and came up with an experiment he’s going to try.

After this demonstration we tried using powerful questions by ourself, and of course I failed miserably… 🙂 Well that might be a bit harsh, but let’s say I realised today that some more practice won’t do me any harm…

Interested in concepts like ‘levels of listening’ and ‘powerful questions’? Attending the earlier mentioned trainings is something I can highly recommend!