By Valorie Burton
If you want success at the next level, you must be willing to ask powerful questions. And that means pushing through your fears. It means getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. It means being willing to sacrifice the status quo in favor of the truth. It means operating with courage. So how do you do it?
Pray for It . In my own experience, one of the fastest routes to courage has been prayer. Getting quiet and centered and asking for the strength and courage to pose a difficult question has always elevated me to a place of greater boldness.
Plan for It.
Many critical conversations are not spontaneous conversations. When you have a meeting, an appointment, a presentation, don’t wing it. What is the purpose of the conversation? How can you be of service to the person (or people) on the other side of the conversation? What do you need them to do or to understand? Get clarity before the conversation begins. Pinpoint problems and opportunities you want to address. Doing so will diminish your fear as you identify ahead of time the obstacles you must address.
Call Out Your Fears.
One of the fastest ways to overcome fear is to acknowledge it. So often we pretend not to feel fear and to try to brush it aside, which only makes it grow as an obstacle. Call it out. Honestly state your fears. Then ask, “And what if that happens? What will I do then?”
You don’t have to feel courageous to be courageous. The most successful people don’t necessarily feel less fear. The difference is that they don’t act on their fears.
When Should I Use Powerful Questions?
Sometimes, in the course of conversation, you just feel curious about something. It may not even seem logical. You have a hunch, a spiritual inkling about something. And if you ignore it, there’s a good chance you’ll regret it. Think back to a dilemma in which you had a “feeling” something was up, but you ignored what you knew in your spirit was off and later regretted it.
At other times, you may be curious, but it isn’t necessarily spiritual. You may be curious about the way a person went about a task or about why they are so passionate about their work. And by asking a few questions, you stumble upon a tidbit that unlocks the door to a whole new world. Asking powerful questions is not an excuse to be nosy but an invitation to be genuinely interested in others and genuinely confident in yourself.
Thee most powerful questions have eight traits in common:
The most powerful questions come from a place of curiosity inspired by a desire to understand or resolve an issue. Curiosity focuses on learning and solving more than being right or proving a point. As a result, when you ask a question from a place of curiosity, it is easier to create a safe space for the other person or people involved to answer.
Hone in on what is most important.
There are always peripheral issues. Focus on what matters most. Otherwise, you’ll find the conversation veering down paths that do not address the core issue.
A powerful question is not a long question. The average seventh grader ought to understand your question. Short and sweet is powerful. Here’s why: When questions get long, the people being asked have to remember the statements that preceded it. As they attempt to hold on to the lead-up to your question, they often become confused.
A powerful question leaves no room for misunderstanding. It is direct. It does not tiptoe around issues. This does not mean it is rude or abrupt. It simply means your question is bathed in truth and authenticity. Use this as an opportunity to practice courage. Be direct but kind.
Reveal the person to themselves.
A powerful question is powerful because it uncovers information, insights, and points of discovery that were previously buried. Sometimes the thing everyone else can see, they can’t see—until a powerful question opens their eyes.
Shift your perspective.
Sometimes it isn’t so much that the question reveals the person to themselves, but it reveals the person to you. Things you may not have understood suddenly become clear. You begin to know the person on a different level. Or you begin to understand the subject matter on a different level. Your perspective is shifted.
Open up the conversation rather than closing it down.
Generally speaking, open-ended questions are more powerful than closed-ended questions that lead to one-word answers. The goal of a powerful question is to move the conversation forward in a meaningful way. You can do that more quickly with questions that invite a person to share their insights, feelings, and thoughts.
Light and neutral.
The heavier the subject matter, the more important it is to ask the question in a light and neutral way. Notice, I didn’t say make serious subject matter funny or make light of a serious matter. I said the way in which the question is asked is light and neutral. This takes practice. Once you are able to pull it off, you’ll find that people will sometimes talk about even the most difficult of subjects with you. Why? Because when the space in which you discuss a matter is light and neutral—without judgment, without fear—it feels as if that space has the capacity to handle something heavy. The more fear that surrounds a topic, the more important it is that there is a safe space in which to discuss the topic without negative consequence. So practice your tone of voice and voice inflection for asking powerful questions. Practice speaking calmly, maintaining neutral, soft body language and a tone of voice that does not give away your opinions about the topic—all of which can influence how a person responds to your question.
Valorie Burton is a bestselling author, speaker, and life coach dedicated to helping people get unstuck and be unstoppable in every area of life. She is the founder of The Coaching and Positive Psychology (CaPP) Institute and has served as a Certified Personal and Executive Coach to hundreds of clients in over 40 states and ten countries. She has written ten books, including her latest, Successful Women Speak Differently.