What are Powerful Questions?

Powerful questions are tool for coaches to help coachees look deeper, evade cognitive bias and bring clarity. Powerful questions are used to provoke thought and often lead to action. Coaches shouldn’t have all the answers and when used correctly, powerful questions can lead a coachee to find the answers.


Powerful questions are also key for leaders in making good decisions. Since we live in a time where technology changes rapidly, knowledge leaders can’t possibly have all the answers. Asking powerful questions of Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), project leads and staff can lead to the information needed to make truly informed decisions.


Powerful questions have a few characteristics.


  1. Powerful questions are open-ended and cannot be answered with a simple, Yes/No and most often ask “What”. For example, “What is challenging for you here?” helps people dig deeper into the heart of the issue through imagination and creativity. Often a powerful question can be followed up with “How” such as, “How can you make this less challenging here?” or “What can you do to make this less challenging?”

“Why” questions are useful for conversation but often lead to analysis instead of imagination and creativity. “Why is this challenging?” can help dig into root cause but limits the exploration of new ideas and insight.

  1. Powerful questions focus on the coachee; not others or a situation. Instead of, “What happened at X?” try “What was it about X that made you feel Y?”
  2. Powerful questions are genuinely based on curiosity. Even the best question can fall flat when delivered with a sense of already knowing, leading or other cognitive bias. They may seem like the dumb or child’s question but they are asked from a blank slate. “What is happiness?”


The great thing about powerful questions is while they can help coachees learn more about themselves and find the right answers, they can also help you learn more about those around you.

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