short question to ask

How to Work a Micro-Question

As part of my continuing theme on how to use coaching skills with your team members, I thought I’d share how to use ultra-powerful ‘micro’ questions.

Have you ever had a difficult conversation where you’ve left thinking ‘I probably said too much… and not enough of what should have been said’?

The truth is we all often say too much, not only when we are explaining ourselves – but when we are aiming to engage someone else via a question. 

This affects everyone who interacts with other people on a day to day basis 😉  Maybe professionals like you?  If you can ask better questions, you’ll get further with every conversation.

As I recently earned my Master Certified Coach, the highest accreditation awarded by the International Coach Federation, I’m reminded of how much further my clients have been moving in the last year as part of improving my skill level – I keep my questions ultra-short, sometimes just 3-5 words.

As anyone who knows how much my mouthy self loves to engage with an audience 🙂 saying less has been a real challenge. But as you know, stretches make a career worth having. 

We all have a tendency to explain away our questions. This forces the listener to spend time focusing on what they think we are asking, which unhelpfully narrows their own thinking. Not the bit of self-reflection I am ever going for when working with my clients.

As I shortened my questions, something you can do with colleagues, I’m actually getting far deeper and more reflective answers from my clients. And far more importantly, they are making even more progress toward their goals. 

Traditional ‘Helpful’ QuestionMore Powerful ‘Micro’ Question
What do you mean when you say X, Y and Z?What’s important about that?
Have you thought about doing A, B and C?What else might work?
I imagine trying L, M or N might work.
Have you tried that?
What’s most essential now?

Asked just a few words, clients are increasingly remarking; ‘That’s a great question. I’ve never really thought about it that way.’ or ‘You’re right, that reminds me there are things I could do.’ These reflections rarely have anything to do with what I say 🙂 

Historically I’d give too much ‘advice’ – even though every coaching client has the answers, and it’s my job to pull those answers out of them.

More importantly, short questions allow the client to think more widely when I keep my questions short. It opens them to interpretation based on what they need at the moment. There are literally thousands of variations, but all stem from a desire to get deeper with the other person. 

I’d love to hear the micro-questions that worked for you?

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