The Art of Meaningful Communication – What is the Right Question?

While providing Coaching as a Leadership Style training in Washington last week we found that one of the most impactful insights was learning the power of asking open-ended questions to fully understand the issue. Managers who bring the art of meaningful communication to their teams by slowing down and being curious bring a deeper conversation and understanding to the table.

When we ask closed-ended questions that result in a yes or no answer, the conversation comes to an abrupt halt after every answer, so conversations are choppy, and it is difficult and slow going to get to the heart of the matter.

Open-ended questions, on the other hand are an invitation to the respondent to think more deeply before they respond, and it is this contemplation that brings more context and colour to the discussion.

Like an investigator using the five why’s technique where they keep asking why? until they understand the root cause of an accident, a manager working like a coach with true curiosity can ask questions that allow the other person to peel back the layers of their issue until they can better understand what the real problem is.

When a coach is a curious, active listener their engagement in the conversation means they know when to ask questions like: What do you want to happen? What’s getting in your way? What excites you about this approach? The right questions will help the Coachee get to the question that truly defines their issue.

As Einstein said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask… for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.”