Q is for Questions. How asking the right questions will lead you to the right answers. This post is part of our blog series, The A to Z of Being Babyproof, a celebration of the attitudes and behaviours it takes to balance career and family – because “babyproof” is not a destination, it’s a blueprint for having it all and making it work.
I ask questions for a living. It’s what coaching is all about; asking questions and, where requested and helpful, suggesting solutions. Being asked the right questions can be life-changing.
“Often, all that stands between you and what you want is a better set of questions” – Tim Ferriss, author Tribe of Mentors
Questioning isn’t just for coaches of course, it’s a vital skill for you too. Which is why one of the main outcomes from my online course is helping you ask the right questions about any challenge you face in your work or personal life. These aren’t just any old questions, they’re the special, pertinent questions that will lead you to the answers or solutions you didn’t realise you knew and which will are necessary to move you forward.
What asking the right questions can do for you:
- Help you get unstuck.
Useful questions to ask: “What am I assuming?”, “What would this look like if it were easy?”
I love this. Whether at work or home, I often find myself over-complicating things, being daunted by a huge project and, often, having some sort of imposter syndrome crisis. This makes me stress and as a result I get stuck. If I ask the question, “what am I assuming about this situation?”, it usually yields answers like “that I’m no good at this”, “that they are expecting x”, “that this is meant to be hard” or “that this should take me 3 hours” and almost always “that I don’t know enough”. When I have answers like that, I can flip them on their head to ask productive questions that stimulate action: for example, “what would i do if I was good at this?”, “what if they were expecting y, instead of x? How could I find out?”, and “if this was easy, what would the answer be?” Again, these are considered questions that give me a different perspective and remove stress and fear so I can get on with moving forward with the task at hand.
- Help you make the right decision.
Useful questions to ask: “Which road takes me closer to my goals?” “Which decision will honour my values?”
I’ve been working with a client, let’s call her Sophie. She faced a dilemma about returning to work after maternity leave when her pay would only just cover cost of childcare. She wanted to be at home with her new baby but her career was also important to her. We did a values elicitation exercise and it turned out that independence and achievement were fundamental to her, and that her career had always fulfilled these values. Of course, love and responsibility for her new family were now also key values. So what to do? Asking the question “Which decision will honour my values?”, led to the realisation that going back to work was the right choice – it not only honoured her independence and achievement goals, it aligned with her love and responsibility values too. It’s vital to Sophie that her little girl grows up knowing that she can have a career and be independent, and that seeing her mum continue to work would inspire her to do that.
- Help you get the best out of others.
Useful questions to ask: “When have you overcome a problem like this before. What worked for you then? What did you learn from that?”
This has been successful over and over with clients, particularly those facing a challenge or opportunity and suffering from self doubt. Asking the right questions can remind people of their achievements and help them tap into strength from past experiences.
- Help you get back on track.
Useful questions to ask: “What’s working and what isn’t?”
When you’re in the thick of it, feeling overwhelmed and struggling with balance, this is a great question to ask and one I ask myself all the time.
My answer to “what’s working?” is always: getting up early , doing yoga, running or other form of cardio 2 or 3 times a week, not going out more than 2 evenings in the week, and planning holidays in advance. To the question “what’s not?” the answer usually is working late at night, answering email first thing in the morning, trying and failing to attend too many school events.. the list goes on. When I’ve compiled my list of what’s not working, I then have a to do list of things I can change. I can take positive action to redress the balance because I have asked myself the right question.
- Empower you.
Useful question to ask: “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”
This powerful question from Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In is a great motivator when you’re facing an opportunity but experiencing self-doubt, or suffering from imposter syndrome. If you’re sometimes inclined to sidestep big challenges due to fear of failure (or just plain terror), ask yourself this question. Realising that fear is an abstract construct means you can start to free yourself from it – and that is truly liberating!
- Help you find solutions.
Useful questions to ask: “What have I tried?” “What else is there?”.
Sometimes you can reach an impasse in work or life – there seems to be no way out and no obvious solution is presenting itself. But don’t give up before you have asked yourself these questions. Asking questions stimulates the brain to think and be resourceful. You are far more likely to come up with a new approach if you ask your brain for help.
“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on it, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper questions to ask.” – Albert Einstein
What questions have helped you move forward in life? Join the conversation in our closed Facebook group.
Caroline Flanagan is a Keynote Speaker, Babyproof Coach and Author of Babyproof Your Career, The Secret to Balancing Work and Family so you can Enjoy It All. Caroline believes passionately in the dream of having it all, and founded Babyproof Your Life to train and prepare ambitious career women for the marathon of working parenthood so they can find their own way to #enjoyitall and #makeitwork. You can reach Caroline at firstname.lastname@example.org