Ask Better Questions

Questions can be life-changing. "If you want to change your life, change your questions! If you want a great life, ask great questions" (Nelson, p. 12-13)!

As Stavros and Torres, authors of Conversations Worth Having, put it, "Change begins with a single conversation" (p. 3). "Great questions can motivate us to change because they invite us to reflect," says marriage and family therapist Wendy Watson Nelson, "They help us to see some part of ourselves or others or a situation we've never been able to see before" (Nelson, p 6)! One way to do this is suggested by James Autry, "Whenever you attempt to make a statement, ask a question. Instead of saying, 'here's what you should do,' you say, 'What do you think we should do?'" (Ferch et al. p 27).

However, not all questions are created equal. Nelson points out that questions can enliven, encourage, enlarge, expand, and enrich our lives, or they can depress, discourage, and demoralize ourselves or others (p. 11). Stavros and Torres agree, asserting that conversations can "either appreciate (adding value) or depreciate (devaluing)," depending on the type of questions we ask. Can you feel the difference between a question like, "Why can't I trust you to do what you say you will do?" versus, "What can I do to help you accomplish all that needs to be done?" One will create anger or shame in the listener and not produce a productive answer. The latter will help the listener feel heard and valued while leading to potentially valuable solutions. "Starting appreciative and inquiry-based conversations is basically a matter of learning two simple practices; applying positive framing and using generative questions" (p. 119-120). "Positive framing flips the problem to a desired outcome. Generative questions seek to uncover what's working, what's going well, what's of value in a situation, what might be of value, what's possible, and what's desired" (121).

Next week's blog will cover a specific tool designed by Stavros and Torres to apply the two simple practices leading to what they call "conversations worth having."


Nelson, W.W. (2010. Change your questions, change your life. Deseret Book.

Ferch, S. R., Spears, L. C., McFarland, M., & Carey, M. R. (Eds.). (2015). Conversations on servant-leadership: Insights on human courage in life and work. State University of New York.

Stavros, J & Torres, C. (2018) Conversations worth having. Berrett-Koehler.