Being Honest With Yourself and Starting from Where You Are
"Preying on Our Own Better Selves"

Stop Asking the Wrong Questions

Question 1

To me, the most energizing questions are those that involve people's values, hopes and ideals--questions that relate to something that's larger than them where they can connect and contribute. People don't have a lot of energy around questions that are about removing pain."

                                --Verna Allee

A lot of the work I do with people ends up being around removing pain. There's a problem to be solved or something to be improved or they are at a career crossroads and need to get out--NOW!

What I find most challenging in these situations is helping people find the energy to actually do something about the issues they are facing. It's easy to sink into the morass and lethargy that problems seem to generate. Negativity breeds complacency I've found and a kind of learned helplessness that is difficult to escape. 

One of the reasons that I've been working so much on asking more powerful questions is because I've seen what happens when we can shift from questions that remove pain to questions that generate possibilities and connection. What we focus on grows, so the more we can ask questions that engage our hopes, dreams and values, the more likely we are to create forward movement. The more I can engage around hopes and possibilities, the better my ability to move toward what I want. 

But our world seems to be geared toward pain removal, so it is a daily battle to ask ourselves different questions. Two strategies I've found that help are these.

  1.  Follow the energy. The surest route to the right questions is monitoring my own responses and how others seem to be responding as well. If a question is asked and you can feel the collective (usually silent) groan, then you know that most likely you are in a "pain removal" situation. I also find that when the answers or follow-up questions seem to focus on irrelevant details or more complaints, this is another sign that we're focusing on pain, not possibility. 
  2. Ask yourself "Is this a pain removal question?"--The more direct route is to evaluate questions and ask yourself if they are about removing pain. This is particularly helpful in the career change realm where I've found that people are likely to focus on how they can escape from a bad situation rather than run toward a good one.  Pain questions are about escape, not possibility. Pay attention to how your question points you toward a positive future rather than away from a bad present. Don't ask "How can I get out of this?" Do ask, "What do I want to move toward?" 

I'm finding that the more vigilant I am about the questions I'm asking, the better my outcomes. When I feel stuck, often it's because I'm asking the wrong questions--questions that focus on removing pain. I can generate forward movement again if I go back to reframing what I'm asking. 


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Great post Michele! This reminds me of the exercise of asking yourself "What would your perfect day look like?". It's so much easier to criticize than to give positive feedback and I guess it’s the same when asking questions – even if you’re asking them to yourself! Strange, strange…

Anyhow, just wanted to give you a holler and recognition for writing astoundingly well-thought and inspiring posts!

Best regards,

Thanks, Henrik--glad you enjoyed it! I've really started noticing how the negativity starts in my own brain and that it takes an effort of will to remind myself to re-frame my questions. :-)

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