Knowing how to ask powerful questions is a valuable skill in business and mentoring. In fact, being curious helps with everything from organisational performance to leading staff. Wondering why and how?
We’ve got some answers about how questions benefit business mentoring, and what makes a powerful question. We’ve also gathered a few ideas to get you started along with some things to look out for.
Why are powerful questions so helpful to business mentoring?
Building relationships and improving critical thinking about business are two of the most important ingredients in successful business mentoring. Powerful questions can help with both of these.
Questions offer an empowering way to open people’s thinking. One of history’s most famous thinkers has a name that’s become almost synonymous with questioning - Socrates. The Socratic Method uses questioning to explore ideas, check underlying assumptions and stimulate critical thinking. It has the benefit of allowing people to review and develop their own perspective rather than being ‘told’ what to think.
Relationships of many types can be deepened with careful questioning, and it’s the same with business mentors and business owners. Questions build trust and rapport because they help us understand each other's perspectives. When they follow the conversation, they also send a message that you're listening, you care, and you want to know more.
What are the characteristics of a powerful question?
The intention behind a powerful question matters. In business mentoring, powerful questions are open-ended, without a hidden agenda. They're also meant to help the business owner rather than trap them. No one wants to feel as though they’re being interrogated!
Seven things that powerful questions usually have in common are that they:
- focus attention
- test assumptions
- ignite curiosity or imagination
- generate action or insight
- are tied with active listening
- propel the conversation
- are asked with empathy.
What should you watch out for?
If you’re starting to craft some life-changing questions, then you're thinking along the right track. But, before you put the spotlight on someone, think about how you can avoid the pitfalls of poor questioning.
Stay clear of solution-orientated questions. This is important for both business mentors and business owners. These close-ended questions are really advice dressed up. Powerful questioning is more about exploring freely rather than asking for predetermined directions.
Don't plan out your series of questions in advance as you may miss the real gems in the discussion. Instead, make use of follow up questions that respond to your listener. There's magic when the whole of the conversation is greater than the sum of its parts.
What are some examples of powerful questions?
The smallest questions can often pack the most punch. Some great examples are ‘why’ and ‘so what’.
The Five Whys technique can help you get to the heart of an issue. The idea is to continue to probe each response with a further ‘why’ until, after five, you reach an underlying truth, insight or problem. You can soften your phrasing and tone. For example, ‘what’s the reason that happened’, ‘what causes you to feel like that’?
Asking ‘so what’ can be a great way to let people break out of emotional thinking. Of course, tone and delivery is everything here! A well-placed ‘so what’ may help people see a bad scenario might not be all doom. Alternatively, they may be able to see steps that could help improve things.
A good Business Mentor helps you build your ability to problem-solve your own business challenges. Questions are a useful tool in this. Here are some examples of powerful problem-solving questions.
- What’s already working that you could build on?
- How could you test your thinking?
- What will happen if you don’t take this step?
- How might someone else succeed in this situation?
- Which of your values are important here?
- What would a simpler version look like?
- What’s the question you’re avoiding?
- How could you break this down into more manageable chunks?
What are the next steps?
If these ideas on powerful questions have piqued your interest, then there are plenty of opportunities for further inspiration and exploration. Business Mentors are naturally inquisitive and curious. They're continually building on their expertise and experience.
If this sounds like you, why not apply to be a Business Mentor? Alternatively, if you'd like to benefit from seeing a fresh perspective, then consider applying to be matched with a Business Mentor. You can expect to explore business success together through powerful questions asked with the very best intention.