Asking Empowering Questions: Engaging Employees
By Jay Forte
Questions can be a powerful managerial tool. They can activate thinking, encourage ideas, inspire creativity and activate ownership. The challenge, however, is that most managers tell more than they ask. To gain the value and successes associated with the power of questions, it is important for managers to act more like workplace coaches.
Today’s employees respond to a manager who takes the time to build a relationship with them – to know them, care about them as a person, and guide and support them in their performance, purposeful work, clear career alignment and growth. They want increased performance feedback to advance their skills and development. A key way to develop this, and to shift from managing to coaching, is to develop proficiency in asking a very specific type of question: empowering questions.
Empowering questions are thought-provoking, open-ended and action-focused questions that activate your employees’ thinking, ideas, engagement and self-awareness. I’ve heard it described as helping your employees “take their brain out for a spin.” By delivering wisely crafted questions, you help your employees see things differently and consider new possibilities.
Asking empowering questions takes practice because it is at odds with the outdated management style of telling. Though the best empowering questions are created in the moment, here are examples of empowering questions to start your training.
- Why do you think that is happening?
- What are two ways to look at this?
- What have you seen that works in a situation like this?
- What is your plan B?
- What lesson did you learn from that?
- What could you do to see it differently?
- How does that event force you to rethink your approach?
- What other ways (2 other ways, 3 other ways) could you respond in that situation?
- If you could do things again, what would you do differently?
- What is the first thing you could do to move past this challenge/problem/block?
- What is the worst/best thing that could happen?
- What would it take for you to own your commitments?
Imagine the circumstances you could use these questions with your employees. What other questions could you ask? How could having employees answer questions like these change your relationship and the performance dynamic?
Asking instead of telling is key to helping an employee activate their thinking, own their thoughts and become more engaged in their performance.