I happened to run into a friend in the cafeteria today. I had worked with him some years ago, and both he and I have moved into much different jobs. I was startled when he made reference to a question I had asked him way back then. Although I have absolutely no memory of the context or the conversation, this is something which has stuck with him for years and continues to be a point which led him to a personal epiphany.
But I’ve observed the same thing in many contexts. Namely, that the things you remember about someone can be strikingly different to what was going on in their head at the time. I remember that my sixth grade teacher told many interesting stories about his time serving in the Navy. Does he remember that? I have no idea. Does he think that had any impact on his students? Probably not. But it was a big deal to many in his class.
This kind of phenomenon happens a lot in coaching. That’s one of the reasons why powerful questions are so important. I wouldn’t have thought that powerful questions were any big deal, much less an intentional and central coaching technique, but they are. It’s because, when you respond to a question with a key learning point (an “aha!” moment) and start building upon that, it becomes a powerful decision point in your life.
These coaching questions can be deceptively simple: Why is that? Do you know that for certain? What if the opposite were true? Is that relevant?
Questions are much more powerful than statements because they kick your brain into gear. Good questions require you to make a choice, to analyze, to think.
I’ve come to peace with the fact that I’ll probably never know what impact I’ve had on those in my life, because I’m almost certain that the people who’ve had the most impact on my life have absolutely no idea. It seems to be just a phenomenon of being human. But it sure makes me more thoughtful about the questions I ask others.