Looking to supercharge your career in 2023? Start asking more questions

woman thinking

Did you know there’s a hidden superpower that can help you lower your stress, achieve more at work, claim back time you’ve been spending on low value tasks and help supercharge your career? 

This superpower can transform your performance at work quickly, and the chances are, you already have it, you’re just not using it. The hidden superpower I am talking about is the simple act of asking questions.

Think back to the last important conversation you had with a colleague. It may have been conducted over Zoom or Teams and it probably involved questions. Can you remember what questions you were asked? Can you remember what questions you posed?

If the answer to both is ‘no’, then you and the person you were talking to can both unlock greater potential by simply committing to asking higher quality questions. If this all sounds a bit simplistic it’s backed by a major academic study conducted by London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

The study by LSE, funded by the UK Government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), found that the developing specific skills around asking questions and using an enquiry-led approach (ELA®) in everyday situations delivered statistically significant improvements in engagement, productivity and capability, transforming management behaviour and skills in as little as six months.

Managers on the study were given access to STAR® Manager –  blended learning management development programme, which showed them how to apply the STAR® model to develop powerful questioning skills. This also led to improvements in skills such as listening, communication and feeling better able to handle challenging conversations.

One of the greatest benefits to managers embracing STAR® and adopting an Operational Coaching™ style of management was getting time back, often reported at over 20% – that’s a day a week to focus on work you really want to be doing to advance your own career.

So what makes a good question? The first thing to understand is that there are two types of questions; transactional questions and insightful questions. Transactional questions are common, ‘Where are the keys?’ or ‘What were last month’s sales?’. You want a specific answer and expect no deep thinking on the part of the recipient. Insightful questions are rare, but for those that ask them, the results can be profound. Insightful questions are designed to stimulate creativity and imagination in the recipient. They are not for the benefit of the person asking the question, but for the other person, who’s encouraged to create new ideas and insights.

Some questions are more powerful than others. I personally really enjoy questions that help shift perspective and get you to look at things from different angles because it helps you to step out of any assumptions that you’re making.

The most powerful questions are often those that invite somebody to change their point of view or help you to expand your thinking, for example: ‘If you were to look at this from someone else’s point of view that you know, maybe your boss’s or colleague’s, what do you think they would say?’

Another good one is: ‘If you had a magic wand and could do anything, what would you do?’

These sorts of questions help to remove some of the barriers and obstacles to your current thinking and stimulate new ideas that can be really powerful. Quite often when we think about our career progression or more simply our performance at work, we are constrained by our own imaginations and rigid thinking patterns. Asking insightful questions, of ourselves and others, can unlock new ideas and ways of working.

There are other benefits to getting good at asking questions. It makes you a better ‘people person’. Most of us aim to be good with people, but it’s a craft that takes effort and practice. To help everyone develop this superpower we’ve included the STAR® model in a new book to help guide anyone wanting to advance their career develop this skill of asking better questions and better listening practices too. Active listening is an established concept that many of us understand. We want people to go one step further and become ‘intuitive listeners’. That involves becoming comfortable with silence and resisting the urge to ‘prepare to speak’ while someone else is speaking.

With practice and attention, I hope that readers of my co-authored best-selling book, The Answer is a Question: The Missing Superpower that Changes Everything and Will Transform Your Impact as a Manager and Leader, will enjoy significant benefits at work that include having more time to focus on high value tasks, better relationships, less stress and more time to advance your career.

There is so much power in a well-timed, insightful question. The problem is not everyone knows what kinds of questions to ask.

Laura Ashley-TimmsAbout the Author

Laura Ashley-Timms is the COO at Notion and is recognised as one of the UK’s top Executive Coaches. She is an expert and thought leader on how to leverage Operational Coaching™ behaviours across organisations to drive commercial results and improve productivity and engagement levels.

Laura learned about the power of coaching from her early childhood career in international sports and began coaching others by the time she entered Oriel College, Oxford (as one of the first females to that college). She gained not only an MA (Oxon), but also an Extraordinary Full Blue.

With over 30 years of international business experience, living and working in the USA, Europe and Asia (and a decade of that spent in the retail sector), Laura has a strong focus on pragmatism and results. She is the co-creator of the STAR® model and the STAR® Manager programme and the architect of many of Notion’s Client programmes. Laura is the co-author of the new best-selling book The Answer is a Question: The Missing Superpower that Changes Everything and Will Transform Your Impact as a Manager and Leader.

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