What makes a powerful question?

Powerful questions we can define as ones that have a significant, positive impact on the quality and direction of a person’s thinking about issues important to them.

Based on analysis of hundreds of powerful questions and observing how coaches and mentors use them, the characteristics of a powerful question include being:

  • Personal – it is about them, or about how they connect to an issue
  • Resonant – it has an emotional impact
  • Acute/ Incisive – it gets to the heart of the issue
  • Reverberating – it stimulates reflection both in the moment and for some time afterwards
  • Innocent – the intent of the questioner is not self-interested or derived from an agenda of their own
  • Explicit – clearly and explicitly expressed

These characteristics make a convenient acronym – PRAIRIE.

Developing your skills in crafting powerful questions

Some simple ways to become more adept at crafting powerful questions are:

  • Notice when questions you ask have strong impact. Reflect on how the question emerged for you and compare it to the criteria above.
  • Ask fewer questions. This allows more time to focus on the quality of the questions you do ask.
  • When you reflect upon a coaching or mentoring session, remind yourself of questions you asked. How could you have asked these questions in a way that made them more powerful? What alternative, powerful questions could you have asked?
  • Build your own list of powerful questions – your own, from other coaches/ mentors and coaching/mentoring literature, and from elsewhere.

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