Why Questions are More Powerful than Answers

If you've ever worked with a great coach or mentor, you've probably noticed that he or she asks you a lot of questions. These questions are targeted, sharp, often uncomfortable - but, inevitably, they lead you to a realization that blows your world wide open. Chances are, when that happens, that moment of epiphany will be imprinted on your heart and mind for the rest of your life. 

The most powerful truths are always the ones we discover for ourselves.

Answers are also powerful. But like all knowledge, answers are useless without intellectual understanding and emotional connection. You can give someone all the information in the world, but if they don't know how to apply it, it won't serve them in a powerful way. 

Questions get your gears turning!

Questions get your gears turning!

As writers, we can use this truth to our advantage. Combining vital information with powerful questions helps our readers integrate the knowledge we share. Leading a reader to self-discovery creates a much more visceral experience than simply bombarding them with facts or opinions. 

On the flip side, we can use targeted questions in our writing practice to expand our field of vision and invite new levels of understanding with regard to our own work. When we work with questions, we continue to evolve, grow, and mature. When we stick to answers, however, we can end up boxing ourselves into a particular format, style, or information sector, and have a hard time adapting to suit the needs of readers or our material. 

Questions are pathways, open and evolving. Answers are landmarks, static and unchanging. Once you have "the answer," there's no need to keep searching. That's why it's so hard to change someone's mind with facts and argument alone; trying to do so is like putting one brick wall in front of another, and telling the first that it needs to move out of the way.

If you're writing to create change in the world, it's imperative to understand the power of the question - both as it applies to your own writing, and as it applies to your reader. Explore the questions that your readers might be asking. Then, show them through emotional storytelling, and open-ended suggestions how their questions can be a pathway to the understanding they desire. In your own work, question everything -  not in a disparaging way, but from a place of pure curiosity. Ask yourself, "Why does this work? Why doesn't this work? What else can I discover here? What are the most powerful words I can choose right now?"

I have a question that I apply to everything in my work. I call it my All-Purpose Power Question: 

"What would it look like if ..." 

Any time I'm resisting something - a project, a piece of feedback, a challenging emotion - I ask that question. "What would it look like if I made that change to my book? What would it look like if I chose these words instead? What would it look like if I completely re-framed that blog post?" When I question my assumptions, default actions, and recurring thoughts and feelings with honest curiosity, I often realize that the very choice I've been resisting is actually my best path forward. 

Here are some other questions I ask all the time when presented with a roadblock, a lack of clarity, or an "answer" that doesn't feel quite right. 

"What would it take to create X result?" 
"What is the best possible outcome here?"
"What do I need to learn/receive/let go of in order to create X?"
"What do I need to learn from this?" 
"What if I didn't have an opinion about this?" 

Inevitably, when I pause to ask the hard questions and release my judgments about the outcome instead of just plowing ahead on the basis of an established (and possibly unhelpful) answer, I learn, grow, and thrive as a writer. I receive new information, get a boost of creative energy, and generally feel lighter. I'm also better able to respond to feedback and suggestions in a positive and growth-oriented way. 

So, writer, I want to know: what questions are you asking today? 

Bryna René Haynes is the founder and President of The Heart of Writing, the chief editor for Inspired Living Publishing, and the best-selling author of The Art of Inspiration: An Editor's Guide to Writing Powerful, Effective Inspirational and Personal Development Books.In over a decade as a writer, editor, ghostwriter, designer, and publishing consultant, she has helped hundreds of authors find their authentic voices and create powerful, memorable, successful works. She lives outside of Providence, RI, with her husband, Matthew, and their little Moonbeam, Áine.