cheat sheet: 6 types of questions for an empowering conversation

In 2008, in Adelaide, I heard David Epston tell a story about a first interview with a family. david-epstonThe family struggled with some problems. Because the night before he had hardly slept, David suggested that in their first meeting they would not discuss these problems. They would do that the next day, in a second interview. So in the first conversation they only talked about sparkling aspects of their identity, of their relationships, of their lives. After this conversation the family found a second meeting no longer necessary. They felt launched. Speaking of sparkling aspects of people’s lives: this can be ‘launching’. E.g. you can discuss what your conversation partner likes to do, is good at, finds precious, and who is precious to her or him. This can be empowering for all parties involved.
So here you have a little cheat sheet with some suggestions for questions for an empowering conversation.

The starting point I chose is: you picked up something that your conversation partner likes to do: cycling, cooking, walking, doing crosswords, playing music, eating, sleeping, playing drums, watching TV, traveling…


Starting point

You identify something your conversation partner likes to do: it could be something like cycling, cooking, walking, doing crosswords, playing music, eating, sleeping, playing drums, watching TV, traveling…


Step 1

Leave your personal curiosity free rein and ask questions to the specifics:

  • what kind of…? (walking, painting, running, dancing, …)
  • how often…?
  • or whom…?
  • alone or with others?…
  • ..

Suggestion: Let go of the idea that “open questions” are better than closed ones. Go with your genuine and personal curiosity.


Step 2

Now explore aspects such as:


  • Effects of the activity on the person: What does … bring to your life?

What does spending time with your mates bring to your life?

This brings people to express aspects they value: e.g. freedom, my imagination is stirred, the connections with my mates, …

And this brings you to the following aspect:


  • Values: Is … (that kind of joy, your imagination, …) important to you?
    • Can you tell me more about that?
    • Why is this important to you?skills-image

This sense of connection you mention, is that something you treasure? How important is that to you? Can you tell me a little bit about why you cherish this the way you do?

  • Skills: What kind of skills does a person need to have or develop in order to … (run, dance salsa, appreciate French cuisine, …)?

So what would you say a person needs to be able to do in order to play the drums and enjoy it the way you do?

  • Social and relational history questions about values:
    • How did you learn to appreciate this? (e.g. freedom, creativity, that kind of joy, …)
    • When did you get to know the taste of …?
    • When did you start appreciating …?
    • Who taught you this?
    • Are there any people who might have inspired you in this learning to value …?


  • Social and relational history questions about skills:
    • How did you learn this?
    • What people have played a role in your learning to …? As a teacher or an inspiration? Or because they encouraged you?


  • Questions about significant others (with whom there is/was a warm relationship:
    • What does… appreciate about you … (the activity that the person likes to do)?
    • How does that impact on her life?


Have fun experimenting (even in a first meeting) with these questions and find out in what way this can be empowering!


Have great day!
Johan Van de Putte




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Johan Van de Putte

Johan Van de Putte is a psychologist with 25 years of experience in holding helping conversations. His focus goes out to molding conversations that are identity-friendly, that explore what sparkles in the life and the person of your conversation partner, and that maintain an awareness of the unequal distribution of power in the therapeutic relationship.

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