The Art of Strengths Coaching

P is for Asking Positive Questions That Can Lead To Positive Results

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There are many ways to encourage people. One approach is to ask positive questions that help people to find answers they personally believe in. People can then translate their findings into action to achieve success.

Good mentors, for example, recognise that the kinds of questions they ask can affect how people use their energy. They can ask questions that help people to build on their strengths and find solutions. Or they can ask questions that cause more problems.

Bernard J. Mohr and Jane Magruder Watkins illustrate the differing approaches to asking questions in their article The Essentials Of Appreciative Inquiry: A Roadmap for Creating Positive Futures.

Here is an extract from the article. You can read more via the following link.

“To see how we might start to frame questions, let’s suppose a team’s performances has fluctuated for a while and its members are now experiencing conflict and low productivity.

“Which of the following sets of questions is likely to give us information that will generate forward momentum?” 

What’s wrong with the people in this group? Why isn’t this team doing better? What’s causing this conflict and who is responsible?


Think of a time in your history as a team when performance was high and you felt engaged and valued. Tell me a story about that time. What were you and the others doing? 

What external/organisational factors were present that supported these moments? How might this team function if we expand the conditions that led to past successes?

Positive Questions

Norman Cousins, the American writer, said that: “Wisdom consists of the anticipation of consequences.” This rule holds true when asking questions. The questions we ask can lead to certain consequences.

My own experience of inviting people to explore certain kinds of questions was influenced by the mentors I met during the 1960s and early 70s.

These mentors included Alec Dickson, who founded Community Service Volunteers, George Lyward, who ran a therapeutic community called Finchden Manor, and David Wills, a pioneer in childcare.

They believed that every person had something to give to the world. They encouraged me to watch a person in action and ask the following questions.

What are the person’s strengths? When do they come alive? What are they doing right then? How can they do more of these things in the future? What can this person give to other people? How can they pass on their knowledge and help other people to succeed?

Good mentors pass on knowledge in ways that people can accept and use to achieve success. At the same time, however, they help people to develop their own resources.

Such mentors often follow the organic approach to working with people. This is based on the following beliefs.

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Many people have highlighted the importance of asking certain questions. Good problem solvers, for example, spend a long time clarifying the real results to achieve. They clarify the What and the Why before moving on to the How.

Creative people also retain their sense of curiosity throughout their lives. Sylvia Earle, the marine biologist and explorer, wrote:

“The best scientists and explorers have the attributes of kids! They ask questions and have a sense of wonder. They have curiosity. ‘Who, what, where, why and how!’

“They never stop asking questions, and I never stop asking questions, just like a five year old.”

One way to help people to develop their inner resources is to ask them positive questions. As mentioned earlier, there are many themes you can explore to help people to build on their strengths and achieve their goals.

Here are some of the questions that I have used to help people, teams and organisations to develop. The aim has been to encourage people to find and follow answers they believe in. You will, of course, have your own set of questions.

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Jack Grossman highlighted the importance of asking positive questions in his book Managing With Wisdom. He explained:

“To ensure that you consistently ask the right questions in the right way, develop the habit of asking yourself:

What’s the purpose of my question? What other purposes do I have in asking this question?

“If your responses indicate that your purposes are positive, you are on the right course. Why? Because positive motives will prompt you to ask questions that lead you to knowledge, insights and solutions to problems.

“Negative motives, however, such as wanting to making people feel bad or wanting to put people on the defensive, will cause you to ask inappropriate questions in inappropriate ways. Here are some positive motives for asking questions.

I sincerely care … I need the information … I want to know so I can understand … I’m genuinely interested … I want your help …I want to stimulate you to think … I want to stimulate a discussion.

“Although asking the right questions in the right way reflects your wisdom, so does not asking questions that might expose a person’s weaknesses, cause a person discomfort or trigger a defensive reaction.”

Positive Results

Imagine that you want to use elements of this approach with a person or a group of people. You may want to do this when facilitating a mentoring session, workshop or other event.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to start by describing the specific situation in which you may want to help a person or a group to develop. It then invites you to do the following things.

Describe the positive results the person or group may want to achieve.

Describe the positive questions you can ask to help them to find ways to achieve the positive results.

Describe the specific things you can do to help them to build on their answers and make action plans to achieve the positive results.

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