Questions. The juicier the better
“……… be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” — Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
Asking the right questions.
Coaching is a partnership between equals, with the coach asking questions aimed at opening up thinking and opportunities for greater growth for the other. Rilke charges us to love the questions, and to live into them.
Asking questions to grow understanding has a long history. In 4th century BCE, Socrates was known as the gadfly of Athens. Gadflies bite the horse, provoking the horse to action. Socrates approach — asking questions to stimulate critical thinking and to draw out ideas and underlying presumptions. Annoying the powers that be and disrupting the status quo.
Chavrusa is a 1st century CE Aramaic word meaning friendship. In contemporary meaning it is a rabbinic study partner. “A chavrusa helps the student sharpen his reasoning powers, develop his thoughts into words. This type of learning imparts precision and clarity into ideas that would otherwise remain vague. A back and forth, question and answer, question and answer.“ (Wikipedia)
Good teachers have a toolkit of great questions. Asking the right questions can “motivate learning and fuel curiosity, foster intellectual development and stimulate thinking.” (Brandon Cline, Chicago Center for Teaching, University of Chicago)
In coaching, the fundamental purpose in asking powerful questions is to move the coachee forward. Discovery is the foundational intention. A core guiding principle of coaching — “People are Inquisitive: Wonder, curiosity and inquiry are the source of all learning.” Like Rilke, Socrates, the Chavrusa, and any good leader, the question is a guide to opening up perception.
A powerful question is one free of a judgemental voice. For instance, the question, “Why did I fail” implies you are a failure, which is destructive and fundamentally not true. It stops learning and growth. A more beneficial and constructive question would be: “What blocked me or got in my way there?” Or “How can I move forward now?”
Here is one vigorous question to ask yourself today: “Who is in charge of my life? Me or other people?” This is not a simple question with a definitive answer. This is a question to sit with. And like the gadfly, spur you to action. A question to be lived into.