It is widely believed that consulting services are about telling other people and organizations what to do. However, in systemic consultancy, it is much more important to ask the right questions at the right time.Furthermore, the person who asks, does not have to answer.
How can I figure out whether the question I asked, was a good one?
There is a common rule you can follow in most cases. The longer your counterpart must think, before he or she answers, the more effective was your question.
How long does it take you to answer the following questions: “Who of your colleagues is the most difficult to work with?” & “What do you think, would your colleague say, if he heard what you just said?”
As you see, both questions are of similar length. However, the last one is most likely the one that your counterpart must think of the longest. Great consultants know how to ask meaningful and relevant questions in simple and precise words.
Recommendations to make your (systemic) questions more effective
- Be patient. Never interrupt your counterpart in his thinking process. If you interrupt him, you also interrupt his path to a new way of thinking. As a result, you weaken your initial question.
- Great questions are open questions. They require your counterpart to elaborate. Instead of solely asking “Do you like your job?”, a more insightful question could be, “What aspects about your job do you value the most?”
- Don´t ask suggestively. Questions like “Do you agree that…” or “Shouldn´t you do the following…” are not effective because you impose your own opinion. If your counterpart specifically asks for a suggestion, you can also return the question: “What do you think, would I suggest you?”
- Ask for clarifications. If you are not sure that you understood the other person, don´t hesitate to repeat what you understood. “From what I understood, you believe that there is no better alternative than A?”
- Help your client to think and don´t satisfy your own curiosity. It is not relevant for the coach to know the client’s system in detail. Questions like “How many people work in your department” should be kept to a minimum because they only require the coachee to repeat what he already knows anyway. Good questions help the coachee to get new insights.
As a company, we not only coach clients actively, we also train and educate future systemic business coaches. Let´s finish with a great quote by Voltaire:
Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.
Written by Maximilian Bergauer & Petra Nöding