Asking Open-ended Questions Brings Clarity


open-ended questions are a powerful coaching technique

Asking open-ended questions is one of the most productive coaching techniques.

Conflict shows up every day in our lives in one form or another. It can be over which route you take to a destination or a tough situation at work. Taking time to think it through and ask more questions is typically when you get the relief of that “AHA” moment of clarity.

Not just any old question. Closed-ended questions that be answered with a “yes, no, or I don’t know”, give you no further information.  Asking an open-ended question begs for more information which can be critically revealing.

A while back, my client Darrell and I were going through a list of his current clients in order to make some decisions on which ones were good for him to continue working with, while also wondering if there were any that he should drop. Darrell was a big man, a retired NFL player, so I found it surprising when he told me he was intimidated by one particular client. Darrell felt he had to let him go.

Dreaded answering the phone

Even though I couldn’t imagine Darrell being intimidated by anyone, he shared with me that this particular client treated him like he was an idiot, questioning every transaction they did together. Darrell dreaded answering his phone when he saw the man’s name come up on his caller ID.

To complicate matters further, this client gave him more business than any of his other clients. In spite of how profitable their relationship was, he was anxious to stop working with this guy because he was tired of being treated poorly.

Now was the perfect time to ask an open-ended question! I gave Darrell the homework of calling his client and asking, “Somewhere along the way you seem to have lost your trust in me. Help me understand….” The client roared with laughter and said he treats everyone like an ass and that he actually loved working with Darrell and had great respect for him. This was certainly not at all what Darrell expected to hear!

With one conversation their entire relationship changed. They now look forward to working together and challenging each other with a great deal of laughter! Understanding each other’s behavior, the path is clear for effective communication.

It took the right question

Imagine the alternative – walking away from a really good client because Darrell failed to discover the truth. Something he finally did simply by asking an open-ended question

What assumptions have you made about relationships at work or the rest of your life? The next time conflict shows up, give yourself a chance to look at the situation without your emotions involved. Take a breath, get curious and ask these questions:

  • What do I know about this situation to be true?
  • What stories am I making up?
  • What assumptions have I made?
  • What questions do I need to ask?
  • What is absolutely right about getting into this situation?
  • What lessons have I learned and how did I grow?

Be the example for others on how to handle conflict. Show your leadership skills and help others to calm down by simply asking curious questions rather than simple agree/disagree questions which give you a data point but nothing more.

There is a beauty in open-ended questions and how they can change everything.

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