There is numerous research literature on how powerful questions are and how they could be used in problem solving frameworks, mediation, restorative practices, action learning, facilitation, people management and day-to-day social interactions. Many books have been written about the power of inquiry and how leaders have found that asking is more effective rather than telling, as a great tool for engaging and influencing human systems.
Literature (Dorothy Strachan, Marilee Adams, Michael Marquardt, David Cooperrider, Diana Whitney, Edward Schein, Peter Senge and many others) covers various aspects of inquiry including some of the following insights: (not an exhaustive list).
- A process of inquiry, about a situation by itself is capable of changing that situation. For example, an inquiry into the dreams and visions of the organization will move the people to act in alignment with the desired future - triggering the process.
- There are various types of questions (open, closed, third party, best/worst, imaginative, and so on) and these are tools in a leaders' tool kit. The impact of these questions are different and the ability to experiment with various types of questions is the key to further learning about the power of questions.
- Inquiry into strengths, values, past successes, dreams, high point experiences and ‘Flow’moments, tend to create positive impact in conversations - enhancing the relationship, creating positive energy, recognising the root cause of success, thus increasing the possibility of repeating those successes and building on them further.
- Reflective questions carefully chosen are capable of shifting the mindsets from deficit to abundance, judger to learner and victim to empowered. There is no reflection without a question. The power of insights depends upon the quality of the question asked and the time taken to stay focused, irrespective of distractions.
- Questions asked to a group push the boundaries of team performance, effectiveness, innovation and learning. Questions help a team challenge their own assumptions and uncover possibilities beyond the norms. This increases the trust, openness and accountability in teams, leading to high performance and fulfilment.
One may begin with the small step of asking questions, carefully appreciating the impact they produce in conversations, relationships and outcomes. Further refinement in inquiry skills and selfgrowth can be accomplished by focusing on the intent of questions. Remember, one might seem to ask questions to others, yet with the agenda of belittling, blaming, proving others wrong, establishing her power or condescending. Others can easily see through the superficial behaviours, which will result in a negative impact rather than the expected positive change through inquiry. The real change comes from aligning the intention with the skill of inquiry - time has to be spent on clarifying the intent, the WHY, before deciding on WHAT to ask. Questions with a positive intent (celebrating success, clarifying the vision etc.), when asked skilfully, can create breakthrough outcomes.
Take a risk today - stop advising and telling, start asking! Appreciate the impact of your questions