I write to figure out what I think.

It has taken me a while to include strategy sessions as part of my services because I don’t come up with big ideas on the spot, during live workshops.

However, completing the Strategy as a Service training for writers (offered by Austin Church and Ed Gandia) has helped me to see that I can deliver strategy services in a way that suits my brain.

That means:

  • Researching and thinking about the project and coming up with a good structure for a workshop.

  • Asking open questions during a workshop and taking notes on the responses.

  • Digesting the content in my quiet home office, and giving myself the time and space I need to come up with new ideas (the best ones are most likely to turn up while I’m writing my daily morning pages).

One of the ‘further reading’ recommendations from this training was The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever by Michael Bungay Stanier. It explores seven great questions which help people gain clarity and identify solutions to their problems. These questions are valuable in both professional and personal relationships, and are also well worth asking yourself within a journal or morning pages.

Austin rates these questions so highly he keeps them on hand when running his strategy sessions.

I created a printable list of the questions which you are welcome to access from here.

The seven questions in The Coaching Habit

The Coaching Habit encourages us to ask a question and then allow time for people to formulate their own response rather than rushing in with advice.

 “The change of behaviour at the heart of what this book is about is this: a little more asking people questions and a little less telling people what to do.”

Question 1 – What’s on your mind?

This is a question to ask when you’re exchanging small talk with someone but sense that they have something more important to discuss.

That’s because it’s a question that says “Let’s talk about the thing that matters most”.

What do you reckon? Would you feel comfortable asking someone this question? (I think I’m going to have to build up to this one.) My current version of this is “how has your week/month been?”

Question 2 – And what else?

This question helps people to access their own wisdom, insights, self-awareness, and more possibilities.

It helps you to avoid leaping in and providing your two cents’ worth about someone else’s issue – instead giving them the space and time to uncover and create new possibilities.

I recently used this one when someone was torn between two different options, and it worked – he ended up making a choice he was happy with.

Question 3 – What’s the real challenge here for you?

This question helps people to slow down and think more deeply.

It can help you to choose the most important thing to focus on, when you have a big list of potential topics.

It is also a valuable way to bring a conversation back to what you can do, rather than continuing to complain about what other people are doing.

I have tried this as a journal question, and it helped me move away from ruminating on what I couldn’t change.

Question 4 – What do you want?

This question “helps people to more courageously imagine what better (and much better) really looks like.”

It helps you to see where you want to get to. And once you know that, “the journey often becomes clearer”.

My business coach Kat Soper asked me this question a couple of months ago when I was tangled up in knots about an issue with my workload – my next steps became a lot clearer once I answered this question.

Question 5 – How can I help?

The benefits of this question are two-fold:

  1. It helps your colleague or client to make a direct and clear request.

  2. It stops you from thinking you know how best to help and leaping into action.

I have asked someone this question when they were extremely stressed, and it was amazingly helpful way to avoid me becoming reactive, and instead to move the conversation into a positive space.

However, it’s important to realise that once you receive the answer to this question, you have a choice about your response. You don’t have to say yes.

Alternatives are:

  • No
  • I can’t do that … but I could do …
  • Let me think about that (to give yourself time).

Question 6 – If you’re saying yes to this, what are you saying no to?

“A Yes is nothing without the No that gives it boundaries and form,” says the author.

“It’s all too easy to shove another Yes into the bag of our overcommitted lives, hoping that in a Harry Potter magical sort of way it will somehow all be accommodated.”

The author recommends we stop the rush to action and towards the “Cliffs of Overwhelm”, and ask, “What will you say No to, to make this Yes rock-solid and real?”

He also refers to Michael Porter’s definition of strategy – “The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.”

I have been experimenting with applying this question to my weekly work plan by choosing only three things to complete during a week – with everything else needing to fit around these priorities, or be deferred. Its powerful because it forces me to make a decision about what is most important, and to focus on getting that done ahead of everything else.

Question 7 – What was most useful to you?

This is a good question to ask at the end of a workshop or a presentation.

Reflecting on what we have learned, and coming up with an answer to this question, helps us to retain knowledge much better than if we read or hear something and then move on.

That’s because:

“People don’t really learn when you tell them something.

They don’t even really learn when they do something.

They start learning, start creating new neural pathways, only when they have a chance to recall and reflect on what just happened.”

A related question that you can ask at the beginning or a regular one-on-one meeting is “What have you learned since we last met?”

Where can you ask these questions?

I hope you can find opportunities to try out these questions in your workplace. Here’s a link to access my printable version of the questions.

Work with me

I’m looking forward to including these questions in future discussions with my clients when discussing their writing and editing projects.