The 6 Coversations

The Nature of Powerful Questions

The conditions for achieving accountability entail the use of powerful questions. Questions express the reality that change, like life, is difficult and unpredictable.

It is the questions that change our life. We all look for answers and all we get in response is more questions.

This is why questions confront in ways that statements and answers don’t. And why questions are essential for the restoration of community.

Questions open up the conversation, answers close it down.


Invitation replaces mandate, policy and alignment


Possibility replaces problem solving


Ownership and Cause replace explanation, blame and denial


Dissent and Refusal replace resignation and lip service


Commitment replaces hedge and barter


Gifts replace deficiencies

Elements of a Great Question

It is ambiguous. Do not try to precisely define what is meant by the question. This

requires each person to bring their own, personal meaning into the room.

It is personal. All passion, commitment and connection grows out of what is most personal. Create space for the personal.

It evokes anxiety. All that matters makes us anxious. It is our wish to escape from anxiety that steals our aliveness. If there is no edge to the question, there is no power.

The questions themselves are an art form worthy of a lifetime of study. They are what transform the hour.

The Setup of Questions

Each time a small group takes up a question, it needs to be set up in a specific way. The setup is as important as the question, for it sets the context.

There are three elements of the Setup: Name the Distinctions, Give Permission for Unpopular Answers, and Avoid Advice.

  1. Name Distinctions. Each question has a distinction that is critical. For example, later in this booklet we list four questions which confront people’s ownership of this event. In one of the four questions, we ask how valuable an experience we plan to have vs how valuable an experience we want to have. The distinction between plan and want is the difference between effect and cause. In this case we can want to have a good experience, but it does not mean we choose it. We can still wait and see what the world will provide us. To ask what kind of experience we plan to have places the ownership of that experience clearly in our own hands. The language of what we plan forces us to be accountable.

    Each question is about creating powerful distinctions, which needs to be highlighted. If you are not aware of the distinction that makes the question powerful, don’t use the question.

  2. Give Permission for Unpopular Answers. When people answer a question they are conditioned to seek the right answer. Encourage them to answer honestly, by naming unpopular possible answers, and supporting their expression. For example, on the above question, let them know that an answer that says they plan for this to be a very poor experience is a fine answer. All we care about is that people own their experience, not that the experience be a good one.
  3. Avoid Advice. We need to tell people not to be helpful. Trying to be helpful and giving advice are really ways to control others. Advice is a conversation stopper. We want to substitute curiosity for advice. No call to action. No asking what they are going to do about it. Urge participants to ask others “why does that mean so much to you?” The goal is to replace advice with curiosity. Plus in our rush to advice and action, we increase the likelihood that tomorrow will be just like yesterday.

Risk Order of Questions

Certain questions require a greater level of trust. Begin with less demanding questions and end with the more difficult ones. Same with the conversations -- ownership and commitment are high risk and require higher trust to have meaning. Possibility and dissent are lower risk questions and come first.