I make a bold claim about the AWE Question in The Coaching Habit. We say it’s The Best Coaching Question in the World.

It’s so good that its acronym makes it literally AWEsome.

So what is this all-powerful question?

And What Else?

Three simple words, not one longer than 4 letters.

With seemingly no effort, this question creates more - more wisdom, more insights, more self-awareness, more possibilities—out of thin air.

There are three reasons it has the impact that it does: more options can lead to better decisions; you rein yourself in; and you buy yourself time. You do want to remember that the first answer someone gives you is almost never the only answer, and it’s rarely the best answer. You may think that’s obvious, but it’s less so than you realize.

Chip and Dan Heath, in their excellent book Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work, quote a study by Paul Nutt, a man “who may know more than anyone alive about how managers make decisions.” Using a rigorous protocol, Nutt reviewed the outcomes of 168 decisions made within organizations. He found that in 71 percent of the decisions, the choice preceding the decision was binary. It was simply: Should we do this? Or should we not? It’s thus no surprise that Nutt found that decisions made from these binary choices had a failure rate greater than 50 percent.

Nutt then looked at the success rate of decisions that involved more choices. For instance, what would happen if you added just one more option: Should we do this? Or this? Or not? The results were startling. Having at least one more option lowered the failure rate by almost half, down to about 30 percent.

When you use “And what else?” you’ll get more options and often better options. Better options lead to better decisions. Better decisions lead to greater success.

Four Practical Tips for Asking “And What Else?”

1. Stay Curious, Stay Genuine
Just because you’ve now got a fabulous question to use, that doesn’t mean you can slip into a bored groove when asking it.

2. Ask It One More Time
As a general rule, people tend to ask this question too few times rather than too many. And the way to master this habit is to try it out and experiment and see what works. As a guideline, I typically ask it at least three times, and rarely more than five.

3. Recognize Success
At some stage of the conversation, someone’s going to say to you, “There is nothing else.” When that happens, a perfectly reasonable reaction is a rapid heartbeat and slight panic.

Reframe that reaction as success. “There is nothing else” is a response you should be seeking. It means you’ve reached the end of this line of inquiry.

4. Move On When It’s Time
If you can feel the energy going out of the conversation, you know it’s time to move on from this angle. A strong “wrap it up” variation of “And what else?” is “Is there anything else?” It invites closure, while still leaving the door open for whatever else needs to be said.

Options are good.

The power of “And what else?” is that it’s the quickest and easiest way to uncover and create new possibilities. But having lots and lots and lots of options isn’t always best. So as you ask, “And what else?” the goal isn’t to generate a bazillion options. It’s to see what ideas that person already has (while effectively stopping you from leaping in with your own ideas).

If you get three to five answers, then you’ve made great progress indeed.

“And what else?” is such a useful question that you can add it into almost every exchange.

For example:

When someone’s told you about a course of action she intends to take, challenge her with “And what else could you do?”

When you’re trying to find the heart of the issue, and you ask, “What’s the real challenge here for you?” and he offers up a timid or vague or insipid first answer, push deeper by asking, “And what else is a challenge here for you?”

When someone is nudging a new idea to the fore, exploring new boundaries of courage and possibility, hold the space and deepen the potential by asking, “And what else might be possible?”

“And what else?” works so well because it keeps people generating options and keeps you shut up. So the trigger here is the opposite of that. It’s when someone has given you an idea, when you want to give some advice, when you’re sure you know the answer and are desperate to tell him or when he hasn’t yet said, “There is nothing else!”

Your turn:
Here’s how to apply the New Habit Formula when it’s time to ask the AWE Question.

When this happens_____________________
Write out the moment, the person and perhaps the feelings that are your trigger.

Instead of _____________________
Write out the old habit you want to stop doing. Be specific.

(The old habit will be largely about reverting to advice giving and moving into solution mode sooner than you need to. It could be: going with the first idea, or even the second idea or even the third idea; telling people the brilliant idea you’ve got before they’ve shared all their ideas; assuming you know the problem and/or the solution; or taking control and wrapping up the conversation.)

I will _______________________
Describe your new habit.

(I will ask them, ‘And what else?’)

Coming up in the next Bit…
We tackle a problem plaguing every organization.