Power Questions

Watch the power questions video by Andrew Sobel

Personal connection, likeability, and trustworthiness are back. They are the new litmus test for doing business. We achieve these not by knowing the right answers, but by knowing the right questions. Power Questions gives readers hundred of questions that light fires under people, help them see problems in new ways, and inspire them to bare their souls. The result is deep personal engagement. Download Pdf of this Q&A

1. What is a “power question,” anyway?
Power Questions are thought-provoking questions that give power to your conversations. They also give power to the other person—power to talk about what’s important to them, power to lead the conversation where they want it to go, power to express their thoughts more clearly than ever before. It’s not about you grabbing more power for yourself but rather being perceived as a wise and thoughtful person.

2. How is a power question different from any other question?
Most people don’t ask enough questions, and they often ask lousy ones. For example, they use closed-ended questions to which the other person can give a yes or no answer, or a short factual reply. That’s okay up to a point, but closed-ended questions rarely make people reflect and they don’t get to the heart of the matter the way thoughtful, open-ended questions do. It’s the difference between asking, “What’s your market share?” and “Why do you think you have gained market share?” Between asking, “How far up the ladder have you climbed?” versus “Is your ladder leaning against the right wall?”

3. Why is asking questions so important?
Asking thoughtful questions enables you to learn about the other person, be they a client, your boss, a colleague, or a friend. Sometimes we can spend a lot of time with someone without really knowing anything about them. Questions enable you to connect. And for what it’s worth, they make you look smart. When a relationship is all business and there is no real personal connection, it lacks heart and soul. And therefore you are a commodity—a kind of fungible expert-for-hire. A client—or your boss—can trade you out for a new model with no remorse or emotion. But when you’ve connected personally, the situation is transformed because clients stick with people they like. Bosses hold on to team members they feel passionately about. Personal relationships build loyalty in a way that expertise or brilliance doesn’t!

4. Why don’t people ask more questions?
First, they are afraid. They lack boldness in asking questions because they don’t want to come across as being aggressive or overly inquisitive. Second, they don’t think enough before they speak. It takes time and investment to come up with really good questions to ask someone, until you get practiced at it. Finally—and this is the most important reason—in our culture we believe we impress others and demonstrate our worth by being “smart” and having all the answers. Also, it goes without saying that we love to hear ourselves talk!

5. Why not just give us lists of good questions. Why did you need to actually write chapters?
When we set out to write Power Questions we thought about this a lot. There are, in fact, books out there with lists of questions. Most of them are party questions—you know, “Who would you like to be stranded on a desert island with?” I realized that a great question is great, in part, because of the context in which it is used. Here’s an example: “Why?” can be a terrific question—a truly transformative question if asked at the right moment and about the right thing. “Why?” can also be a critical, carping question that turns the other person off completely. So we decided to describe the actual stories—the events where these power questions enlarged or transformed the conversation. We’ve been told by readers that these stories are fascinating, get the point across, and make the questions memorable.

6. What are some of your favorite questions?
When you boil it down, there are different types of power questions, and I have favorite questions within each type. Focus questions help focus the conversation or the other person’s thinking on what’s important. For example, you might ask, “What have we decided today?” after a meeting. You might ask someone, about an experience, “What did you learn?” “Why?” is also a focus question. It helps you identify what the root cause or root motivation is. I also love passion questions. “What’s been the happiest day of your life?” or, Why do you do what you do?”Another important category is what I term “aspirational” questions. That’s not really a word, but you know what I mean. There’s a great story in Power Questions about a consultant who asks an older CEO, who is nearing retirement, “You’ve had such an extraordinary career…is there something else you’d like to accomplish?” That question ends up transforming a dry, arms-length relationship into a very personal one. I like asking business executives, “As you think about the future of your business, what are you most excited about?” The book has some really interesting questions that cannot be categorized. For example, one of my favorite questions is “What’s your question?” People ask me for advice all the time, and they will start out by saying, “I have a question I want to ask you.” 10 minutes later they are still talking, giving me endless background information about their situation, and they still haven’t asked their question or told me what they want advice about. So I will ask them, “What’s your question?” or “There must be a question in there somewhere…what is it?” Finally, I have personally thought a lot about this one: “If you had three years to live, what would you like to accomplish both professionally and personally?” Asking that question with a one month or even one year time frame is almost pointless—given a short period of time, everyone wants to essentially devote it to being with their loved ones and friends and saying goodbye. And that’s how it’s often posed. But three years? You won’t just hang out at your house for three years. It’s a trick question, in a way, because three years is just like the rest of your life. However you answer the question for a three-year timeframe is the same answer you ought to give for five or ten or twenty years!

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