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The Best Coaching Question in the World in Just Three Short Words

by Michael Bungay Stanier | October 17th, 2017

People sometimes get stressed about having to answer questions, but when it really comes down to it, asking the questions is much harder. Think about the most nerve-racking moments of your life and I’ll bet at least a few of them involved asking a question. Will you marry me? Can I have a raise?

As a manager, you probably ask your employees questions all the time, and chances are, if you know that asking questions is the key to becoming a better coach, you know how a good question can lead to insight and development.

But do you know what the best coaching question in the world is?

Now, you’re probably expecting it to be some profound, perhaps even complicated, question, but the truth is that the best coaching question in the world consists of just three short words: And what else?

I know — it seems impossibly simple, but the AWE Question tends to produce more of everything, seemingly out of thin air. There are three reasons it has the impact it does: more options can lead to better decisions, it forces you to rein yourself in and you buy yourself time.

So, why is it truly the best?

It’s Powerful …

“And what else?” earns its keep as the best coaching question in the world by constantly proving its power. And there are two parts to that.

The first reason it’s so powerful is that it works to boost any coaching conversation. If you’ve asked a question like “What’s on your mind?” (what I call the Kickstart Question), you’ll get an answer, but that answer will probably not be the only answer, nor the best answer.

The AWE Question keeps you quiet and forces the person you’ve asked to come up with more answers — and, likely, better options. Better options lead to better decisions, and better decisions lead to greater success.

And It’s Empowering …

The other thing — and this is a big one — is that it empowers the person you ask. As with other corporate buzzwords (think “strategic,” or even “coaching”), the word “empowerment” has been tossed around a lot over the years. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value at its core.

Empowerment is all about helping others feel enabled and in control. But what we don’t always realize is that one of the best ways to do that is to relinquish some of our own power, handing it over to someone else.

The AWE Question helps us do just that. By asking “And what else?” you encourage your employee to come up with answers on their own, limit your advice giving and, in turn, empower your employee to develop within their role.

… But, It’s So Hard

It’s only natural to want to help when someone comes to us with an issue, so our tendency is to jump in and offer advice. The AWE Question stops you from doing this, though. It’s a self-management tool that tames the inner Advice Monster.

Fight the impulse to be in control. Empower your employee. Ask “And what else?” and see how the doors open, the lights turn on and the wheels start turning.

Michael Bungay Stanier

Michael is the Senior Partner at Box of Crayons, a company that teaches 10-minute coaching so that busy managers can build stronger teams and get better results. His most recent book, The Coaching Habit, has sold a quarter of a million copies. Michael is a Rhodes Scholar and was recently recognized as the #3 Global Guru in coaching. Visit BoxofCrayons.com for more information.