The Most Powerful Coaching Question in the World

March 21, 2016

Jonas Salk, Nobel Prize winner and developer of the first successful polio vaccine, said, “What people think of as the moment of discovery is really the discovery of the question.”A good question is a portal for new insight and a new future in a way that advice isn’t.

But will any question do, he asks rhetorically? Of course not.

Closed questions–where the answer is Yes or No–have their place, but are more about certainty than insight. Some questions aren’t even questions. “Have you thought of …?” is just advice with a “?” added on. Good questions are often short, typically start with “What…” and are followed by silence as you listen to the answer.

But one question rises above them all. One question is The Best Coaching Question in the World. It’s short, just three words. And, conveniently, its acronym is AWE:

“And what else?”

And why does “and what else?” work so well? Two reasons.

Number one is because the first response to any question is never the only answer, and it’s rarely the best answer. “And what else?” is a way of taking a good question and then supercharging it, so you get more bang for your asking buck. Here’s an example:

“What’s the real challenge here for you?”

“And what else is a real challenge?”

“And what else?”

“Anything else?”

“OK … so what’s the real challenge here for you?”

Can you feel how the conversation deepens?

The second reason is because “And what else?” is a powerful self-management tool. When you ask a question and get a response, the habit many of us have is to then leap in with our own ideas, suggestions, points of view, and solutions. If you resist that and ask the AWE question instead, you’ll find them doing the work and having the insights, while you get to work less hard and have more impact.

Coaching is simple enough: A little more curiosity and a little less advice giving. “And what else?” might be the easiest way to start building that muscle.

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About The Author

Michael Bungay Stanier is the Senior Partner of Box of Crayons, a company that gives busy managers the tools to coach in 10 minutes or less. He's the author of five books, the most recent of which is The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever. Dan Pink calls it "simple yet profound". Brené Brown says "practical and inspiring."


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  4. avatar

    Jonas Salk , one of the greatest humans ever lived, was not a winner of Nobel Prize. It does take a lot of sheen from the Nobel Prize.

    Vishy Sankara

  5. avatar

    That’s the good tip, two ears to listen to double of talking, increases info.

  6. avatar

    Unpeeling the onion. I love that AWE assumes more is just under the surface and allows space for the person to pull back another layer. Good stuff!

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