An associate recently brought to my attention a worthwhile article entitled, “The Art of Asking Questions”, by Marshall Goldsmith, the world-renowned authority on mentoring, leadership and executive coaching. Dr. Goldsmith makes a distinction between information-seeking questions and understanding-seeking questions, and he points out that in a mentoring relationship understanding-seeking questions almost always contribute to a mentee’s growth. He then gives a list of elements that produce insight and a list of techniques that enhance the value of the dialogue. In this post I suggest some high-value questions that you can ask your mentees.
First of all, I LOVE Dr. Goldsmith’s title. Asking high-value questions is indeed an art. Asking the right question is supremely important for almost any professional, including scientists, physicians, social workers, police, journalists, attorneys, accountants, sales professionals — the list can go on and on. That underscores the importance of this topic.
Here are two statements that are particularly meaningful to me:
- The kind of question you ask determines the kind of answer you’ll get.
- Asking the right question is more important than finding the answer easily. Often, the struggle to find an answer results in substantial growth.
I’m going to share some questions that have served me well in mentoring relationships. But first, please know that I believe that the intent of the question is more important than the question itself. If the intent is to seek the mentee’s greatest good, that will be evident, and you’ll be able to ask more challenging questions. Also, let’s understand that all questions are asked within the context of an existing relationship. Part of the art here is understanding what questions are appropriate between the you and your mentee at a given point in your evolving relationship. With that understanding, here are some questions to consider if you’re the mentor.
In many instances you’ll be reviewing a mentee’s performance in a particular situation. So you might experiment with these questions:
- How do you think you did? (This is just to get a mental review going.)
- Did anything surprise you?
- What went well? And why? (People always want to focus on what did not go well. There is often more to be learned in thinking about what went well and how to repeat that in the future.)
- What did not go so well? And why?
- What lessons did you learn from this experience?
- What will you do differently in the future to improve your performance? And why?
In some instances, you’ll be discussing an upcoming situation. Consider these questions:
- What are your desired outcomes from this event? And why?
- How likely is it that your plan of action will achieve your desired outcomes? And why?
- What concerns you? And why?
Let’s understand that part of the art of asking high-value questions is actively listening and asking great follow-up questions. This is a talent. Great art requires great talent. That being said, here’s one follow-up that often comes in handy:
Tell me more. (OK, I realize it’s not technically a question.)
And I want to highlight one question that, asked sincerely, works in almost all cases:
How can I help? (If you ask only that one question, you and your mentee will be well served.)
Thanks to my friend, Tiatana Costello, for suggesting this topic.
Thanks for reading. I’d love to hear some questions that have served you well in mentoring relationships.