Asking the right questions

Which are the best questions to ask to add value? Through Inspiring Partnerships, I am committed to offering a new insight or connection at each meeting.  As an external partner, organisations are seeking new insight and expertise from me.  The best value from my recent coaching experience with Bird Table is the fellow participants and coach asking me challenging questions.  I hope, that in economic development, I offer information and insight but so often the best way to work is to ask the right questions and the staff, within the organisation,  are then empowered to find the solutions to their dilemmas and ones that they are best placed to implement.


The trick then is being able to ask the best questions and often that is about having a fresh perspective. It is also about really listening and immersing yourself in the topic and your client’s issues.  I am developing some key content to ensure I explore all bases with clients and ask the best suite of questions to provoke thought and new solutions.  I’d be keen to have your feedback as the definitive list emerges.  The current questions are:

  • Engage positively. To have a external partner look at your work is a challenging process and can be uncomfortable. To make the most of the feedback, any officers engaged need to be thinking positively. Recognise the effort that has already been applied, use respect, humour and teamwork to move the content forward.
  • Understand the story first – ask the officers to summarise the work so far. The story from their perspective is critical and the element they are aiming to deliver. This gives them the opportunity to share ideas and lead the discussion.
  • Always ask open questions – don’t ask questions that require yes or no answers but ask why, how, when will that be delivered? Challenge the participants to think really hard about the activity they are planning.
  • Challenge assumptions – how did you reach that conclusion? Can you develop that further? What is the natural conclusion of that? What is the impact?
  • Ask, don’t tell! Avoid giving solutions – help the the participants find their own solutions. How can you solve that? What is the first step? Who needs to be involved to move that forward?
  • Don’t feel pressure to fill the silence. Thinking time is vital. Let people answer the question and don’t fill the void. The question is a tool to provoke an answer that is owned by the person developing that answer. It may take time.
  • The stupid questions are great – they are often the questions that need to be asked. Why do you do that? “Because we always have” comes the answer. It needed to be said but only someone external can say it.
  • Being a devil’s advocate is another route? Ask the “what if” questions to really stress test a proposal. If that wasn’t funded, what would happen? If you can only do half of that project, what would you do?

So that’s my 8 tips on questions to get the best value from a discussion. What do you think?