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Powerful open questions start with What and How

The power of great open questions that start with What and How, not Why

Executive coaching is all about helping executives and leaders improve their performance, achieve their goals, and develop new skills. One of the most effective tools in executive coaching is asking great questions.

Great questions can help executives to think more deeply about their goals and challenges, explore new possibilities, and gain new insights. In this blog, we’ll explore the power of great open questions that start with What and How, not Why.

 “The important thing is not to stop questioning.

Curiosity has its own reason for existence.”

– Albert Einstein

 

The Importance of Open Questions in Executive Coaching

 Open questions are questions that cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or “no” response. They require the person being asked the question to provide more detailed and thoughtful answers, usually requiring them to provide examples, explanations, or additional information.

Open questions encourage the person being asked to explore their thoughts, feelings, and experiences in greater depth. These types of questions are often used in coaching, counseling, therapy, and other settings where the goal is to facilitate conversation, gain insight, and deepen understanding.

Examples of open questions include:

  • “Can you tell me more about that?”
  • “What do you think the main challenges are in this situation?”
  • “How do you feel about the outcome of that decision?”
  • “What are some of the options you are considering?”
  • “What factors are most important to you in making this decision?”

Open questions are an essential tool in executive coaching, as they encourage clients to explore their thoughts and feelings in depth, identify their goals, and generate new insights and perspectives. Open questions are those that cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or “no” response but rather require clients to think deeply and respond in detail.

Here are some reasons why open questions are important in executive coaching:

  1. Encourages self-reflection:

Open questions allow clients to explore their thoughts and feelings in greater depth, leading to greater self-awareness and self-reflection. This enables clients to identify their strengths and weaknesses, as well as areas they need to improve, which in turn helps them to create a plan for personal and professional growth.

  1. Promotes creativity:

Open questions challenge clients to think outside of the box and generate new ideas and perspectives. By encouraging clients to explore multiple possibilities, executive coaches can help them come up with creative solutions to complex problems.

  1. Facilitates learning:

Open questions help clients to learn from their experiences by reflecting on what they did well and what they could have done differently. By asking open questions, executive coaches can help clients identify key takeaways from their experiences and apply them in future situations.

  1. Enhances communication:

Open questions promote effective communication between executive coaches and clients. By asking open questions, executive coaches can better understand their clients’ perspectives, motivations, and goals, which can help them tailor their coaching approach to meet their client’s specific needs.

  1. Builds trust:

By asking open questions, executive coaches can create a safe and non-judgmental space for clients to explore their thoughts and feelings. This can help build trust between executive coaches and clients, which is essential for effective coaching relationships.

However, not all open questions are created equal. Some open questions can be more effective than others. In particular, questions that start with What and How can be more effective than questions that start with Why.

“It is not the answer that enlightens, but the question.”

– Eugene Ionesco

 

“Why” Questions Can Be Problematic

“Why” questions are often used in executive coaching and other forms of communication. They can be effective in some situations, but they can also be problematic. There are several reasons why questions can be problematic:

  1. Can feel judgmental:

When asking a “Why” question, it can feel like you are challenging someone’s actions or decisions, which can make them defensive or feel judged. This can result in the person being asked shutting down or becoming less receptive to feedback or advice.

  1. May not be productive:

Sometimes “Why” questions can lead to circular or unproductive conversations. For example, if someone asks, “Why did you do that?” the answer may be, “Because I thought it was the right thing to do.” The follow-up question might be, “But why did you think it was the right thing to do?” This type of conversation can go on indefinitely, without leading to any meaningful insights or solutions.

  1. Can focus on the past:

“Why” questions tend to focus on the past, rather than the present or future. While it can be helpful to reflect on past decisions or behaviors, dwelling on them too much can prevent individuals from moving forward and making positive changes.

  1. May not promote self-awareness:

“Why” questions can sometimes be interpreted as accusatory or confrontational, which can prevent individuals from being honest with themselves or others. Instead of promoting self-awareness, this can create defensiveness or denial, making it harder to identify areas for improvement.

  1. May not be productive:

Sometimes “Why” questions can lead to circular or unproductive conversations. For example, if someone asks, “Why did you do that?” the answer may be, “Because I thought it was the right thing to do.” The follow-up question might be, “But why did you think it was the right thing to do?” This type of conversation can go on indefinitely, without leading to any meaningful insights or solutions.

  1. Can focus on the past:

“Why” questions tend to focus on the past, rather than the present or future. While it can be helpful to reflect on past decisions or behaviors, dwelling on them too much can prevent individuals from moving forward and making positive changes.

  1. May not promote self-awareness:

“Why” questions can sometimes be interpreted as accusatory or confrontational, which can prevent individuals from being honest with themselves or others. Instead of promoting self-awareness, this can create defensiveness or denial, making it harder to identify areas for improvement.

While “Why” questions can be useful in certain contexts, they can also be problematic. It’s important to consider the tone and intent behind the question and to be mindful of how the person being asked might interpret it. In many cases, open-ended questions that encourage dialogue and exploration may be more effective at promoting self-awareness and facilitating positive change.

“If you want to be successful, ask more questions.

Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers.”

– Tony Robbins

 

What and How Questions Can Be More Effective

“What” and “How” questions can be more effective than “Why” questions in many situations. Here are some reasons why:

  1. Encourage exploration:

“What” and “How” questions encourage exploration and discovery. They can help the person being asked to identify options and alternatives and to think more deeply about the situation they are in. For example, “What options do you have?” or “How can you approach this problem differently?” can lead to a more productive conversation than “Why did you do that?”

  1. Focus on the present and future:

“What” and “How” questions focus on the present and future, rather than the past. This can be helpful in coaching or counseling, as it encourages the person being asked to think about how they can move forward and make positive changes.

  1. Promote self-awareness:

“What” and “How” questions can promote self-awareness by encouraging the person being asked to reflect on their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. This can help them to identify patterns, strengths, and areas for improvement.

  1. Can be more neutral:

“What” and “How” questions are often more neutral than “Why” questions. They don’t carry the same connotation of judgment or confrontation and can help to create a more collaborative and supportive environment.

“The greatest gift you can give someone is the gift of asking great questions.”

 – John Maxwell

 

Great What and How Questions in Executive Coaching

Here are some examples of great “what” and “how” questions that can be used in executive coaching:

  • What would you like to achieve in the next six months?
  • How can you improve your communication with your team?
  • What actions can you take to improve your productivity?
  • How can you build better relationships with your colleagues?
  • What obstacles are preventing you from achieving your goals?
  • How can you overcome these obstacles?
  • What skills do you need to develop to achieve your goals?
  • How can you develop these skills?
  • What opportunities are available to you right now?
  • How can you take advantage of these opportunities?

Asking these types of questions can help executives to think more deeply about their goals and challenges, explore new possibilities, and gain new insights.

Great questions are an essential tool in executive coaching. They can help executives to think more deeply about their goals and challenges, explore new possibilities, and gain new insights. However, not all questions are created equal. Why questions can be problematic, as they can be seen as confrontational, lead to excuses, and be too broad.

What and how questions, on the other hand, can be more effective, as they are less confrontational, focus on action, and are more specific. By asking great what and how questions,

 

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We are a young, vibrant, and diverse executive career coaching group, with the operation registered in 2019, however, the formation was a 45-year career lifetime in preparation. During that period our founder Wayne Brown observed and worked with leaders of all levels in organizations across industries and cultures globally.

Based on that exposure, our company has intentionally set out to support those practicing the art and science of leadership – or as often referred to, “Executive Talent.” These are people who acknowledge that they are not experts. They are open to opportunities for continued growth and carry the desire for learning what is needed to become a success in today’s complexity and uncertainty.

To this end, we have purposely structured our company and engaged with associates in strategic global locations, so that we are able to provide the full suite of transformational executive career coaching, facilitation, and education support required.

 

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