This post is Part 5 in a series on asking good questions–whether in a coaching/mentoring context or in relationship-building in general. (You can read Part 4 here.)
I’ve written recently about asking before-and-after questions. For instance, a standard question I use in conversation and coaching: “How are you different today compared to a year (or three or five) ago?” That’s a good opener, and it brings information and perspective. Generally speaking, people like to answer that question, and if they don’t, they’ll tell you.
So, while we’re working that template, here’s a twist. In addition to asking before-and-after, ask now-and-then. Starting with today and going forward, what dreams might be dormant and waiting to come forth? When the situation calls for it, break the ice with this. “What do you hope will be different a year (or three or five) from now?” I like that, because it can dislodge people from their present situation and help them live into a favorable future. It could even lead to goal-setting and action steps.
OK, but I’m not done yet. By default, when people dream about their future they think outside of themselves– in terms of creature comforts or a better lifestyle or an external hill to climb. “I hope that a year from now I will be in shape. Or out of debt. Or I will have written (or read!) a book.” That’s fine, but while we’re on the subject, let’s drill a little deeper. Say, “Yeah. That’s good. But what about you? What do you hope about you will be different a year (or three, or five) from now?” You can even prime the pump. “I’ve been thinking that a year from now I’d like to worry less. Or feel more secure. Or treat people better.”
That’s where it gets fun, because as we open up with each other we get to greater places of transparency, vulnerability, and health. Of course, you’ll want to calibrate the push-pull of your conversation, but this is where the fun begins. Like it says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17).