Widening the horizon

As we recently discussed, deep listening has benefits for both personal and professional relationships, and therefore also to team and organizational performance. When we cultivate the qualities of patience, openness, humility, curiosity, and non-judgment, we begin to understand that other people are basically well-intentioned, are capable of thinking for themselves, and don’t need us to solve things for them. For this reason, deep listening is integral to the practice of coaching. Effective coaches don’t tell people what to do; they ask questions in such a way that they arrive at their own answers. From deep listening emerge powerful questions, which help people achieve their own insights.

Whether you are supporting someone to develop a new skill, solve a problem, or gain greater clarity, they benefit from questions that encourage them to “widen their horizon” by changing perspective. We often tend to get stuck in mental ruts when working on longstanding or complicated issues – we get attached to certain pieces of information or points of view, and our perceptual biases create a kind of tunnel vision. Purposeful questions can encourage people to make shifts in their thinking that open their eyes to new information and possibilities. Below are a few perspective-changing questions I have experienced – both as a coach and as a client – that create those “ahas” of insight time and again.

  • Polarity flips. When people face a difficult problem or situation, they can get focused on what’s wrong versus what’s right. By guiding them to focus on what they want, instead of what they don’t want, it becomes easier to identify actions that would lead to the desired outcome. The focus becomes on an array of potential solutions, not the problem. What if it weren’t this way, what would it be then? You’ve said what you don’t want to happen – what DO you want to happen? What are some advantages of that outcome?
  • Perspective shifts. Asking people to see the situation another point of view can help them challenge assumptions or see things they wouldn’t otherwise. If you consider the situation through the eyes of a mentor, what might they say about it? Who are other people affected by the situation, and what are their concerns? Imagine it’s a year from now and you’ve already worked through this successfully – what advice might the future you give to the current you?
  • Aligning levels. Some people tend to be action-oriented; others of us are dreamers. Whichever our predilection, we tend to neglect the other end of the continuum, which can lead to disconnects: doggedly pursuing plans that aren’t aligned with purpose, values, and vision; or becoming caught up in the vision but neglecting the practicalities that will bring it to life. Misalignment can lead to apathy and burnout, or wasted time, energy, and failure. For people who struggle to formulate a guiding vision, What do you really want? Why is this important? Who else benefits from this? Who would you be if you achieved this? might be insight-provoking questions. For people who have a harder time executing, some potential questions might include, What skills would be needed to do that? What are some first steps you need to take to get there? When will you do this? Who else needs to be involved?

Coaching is a crucial management skill. Studies have shown that organizational performance is related to the extent to which people feel engaged and satisfied in their work. The number one driver of engagement is one’s relationship with their manager. Imagine having a manager who takes the time to listen to you patiently and non-judgmentally, who knows you have it in you to grow and improve and who, through powerful questions, helps you discover what you need to do to succeed and develop? Imagine being that manager who taps into the vast potential of your employees and leverages it to bring your team and organization even greater success. And, imagine that…it just starts with listening.

(For more on powerful coaching questions, check back next week!)


“I never cease to be amazed at the power of the coaching process to draw out the skills or talent that was previously hidden within an individual, and which invariably finds a way to solve a problem previously thought unsolvable.” –John Russell

“You get the best effort from others not by lighting a fire beneath them, but by building a fire within.” –Bob Nelson