Have you ever wondered about questions? Do you know someone who consistently seems to ask all the right questions . . . in just the right way? Have you noticed that these people are also marvelous conversationalists, even though you do most of the talking? What makes questions such an effective communication tool? How can you learn to use the power of questions to your advantage? In this paper we explore how to use questions to help you learn more.
As leaders, managers, and mates, questions are one of the most powerful tools we own. So let’s scratch the surface for a few minutes and talk about questions.
Why are questions so powerful? Who controls a conversation? How do you nudge someone from defensiveness toward openness? How do you engage another person’s mind? How do you quickly discover needed information? How do you answer a question you don’t know how to answer? And how do you let someone know you genuinely care about them and their contribution?
Have you noticed that you have to do three things to maximize the power of your questions? First, you must ask a good question. Second, and in many instances more important than the first, you must be very attuned to how you ask. Finally, you must genuinely listen to the response . . . even if it’s silence.
Your listening skills need work, wouldn’t you agree? All of us need work on our listening skills and this short essay is not adequate to cover the subject. But, did you know that research has been done measuring who burns the most energy in a conversation, the talker or the listener? You’re right, the listener.
So if you want to work on your listening skills be prepared to invest more energy focusing your ears and your eyes on what is being said (content) and how they are saying it (intent).
What’s a good question? A good question is one that accomplishes what the questioner intended. Do you intend to embarrass the other person, solicit information, influence them, or change the subject?
Think through what you want to accomplish before you ask and you’ll have a better question. Incidentally, your question can be excellent and not be within the context of the conversation. What better way to change the subject or to encourage out-of-the-box thinking?
“Think through what you want to accomplish before you ask and you’ll have a better question”
How do you ask a question? Your manner is critical and must fit your intent, or your integrity will be an issue. You can be intimidating, neutral, or struggling. Given that you mostly want to solicit straight answers, stick with a neutral or struggling manner.
Have you noticed that most people want to help others, especially if they perceive the need is genuine? This very human behavior is true with questions, so work on asking your questions from a struggling (I need your help) manner. Watch Lt. Columbo on reruns of Columbo to see a great model of this style.
Does the talker or the listener control the conversation? You’re right again, the listener, because they’re usually the one who asked the question.
Being in control is powerful and questions let you direct the subject, the range, the depth, and the amount of time invested. This point alone makes questions one of your most powerful tools!
Have you noticed you can’t really tell anyone anything? What happens when you try? They become defensive . . . at least in their mind . . . if not openly. They’re saying to themselves that you don’t understand this aspect of the situation or that you don’t have the background to appreciate what’s really going on. And since their perception is their reality, they’re right.
So give yourself a big break and avoid defensiveness (closed mindedness?). Focus on what to ask not what to tell. Let the other person educate you with their knowledge and experience while you help them discover the potential problem that concerns you . . . by asking questions all around the problem until they jump into the center of the circle. They’re much more likely to feel like they own the problem and be more inclined to fix it.
What happens when someone asks you a question? It’s virtually impossible for your mind not to start searching for an answer. Can you think of a faster or more surefire way to engage another person, especially in a topic that interests them?
How do you find out what you need to know, fast? Right, find a knowledgeable person and ask a lot of questions. Be a reporter and interview them. Ask the classic open-ended (tough to answer with yes, no, or maybe) questions first: Who? What? When? Where? And with care, Why?
How do you respond when someone asks you why you did . . . or did not . . . do something? It’s difficult for most of us not to slip into a defensive state. And defensive people are not as forth-coming with information. So slow your rate of speech and lower your voice when you ask why. It also helps if you struggle a lot while you’re asking why.
What do you say when you don’t know how to answer? You ask a question, of course. So, what question and how do you ask it? “(Pause) Glad you asked. Could you help me better understand what you mean by . . . ?”
You just read the pattern for answering a question with a question, did you see it? First, pause and look pensive to let the questioner know you’re taking their question seriously. Second, make a flattering remark to mitigate the inherent intrusiveness of the question you’re about to ask, such as “Glad you asked” or “Good question.” Third, pick one word or idea out of their question and ask them to expand on it.
They won’t think you’re dumb, they’ll think they didn’t explain themselves well enough . . . and will then proceed to give you a lot more information. Now you’re in a better position to answer their question . . . or better yet . . . to ask them another question. (Hint: Practice at home first, you’ll be amazed at what you discover!)
Why is your mother so special? There are a thousand and one reasons, but one of the biggest is that she . . . among all others . . . really listens to you. Asking a good question about the other person and then totally focusing on them and truly listening to what they say and how they feel is one the greatest gifts you can give.
When was the last time someone gave that gift to you? Could it be too often? Could you give it more yourself? When will you start?
May I ask you a final question? Did you find yourself absorbed in reading this paper? And did you notice that 80% of the sentences were questions? Do you think the two are related?
Now you’re a lot smarter about questions, don’t you think?
Are questions powerful? Yes, incredibly so. How do you use them more often and more effectively? Challenge yourself not to tell anyone anything for the next hour. Turn all your telling into questions. When you can do this for a week, you’ll be well along the path to mastering the power of questions.
“Are questions powerful? Yes, incredibly so.”
If you would like more information about how to apply a process-based approach to improve your marketing/ sales function, simply contact us and we’d be happy to help you get started. From sweeping marketing/sales management process strategies to specific branding or product launch services, we can help.
If you’d like to learn more about Customer Manufacturing Group, or for a complimentary subscription to Customer Manufacturing Updates, call us at (800) 947- 0140, or fax us at (408) 727-3949, visit our website: www.customermfg.com, or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We have offices in major cities in the United States, and our experts travel extensively throughout the world. If you’d like to schedule a meeting when we’re in your area, just let us know.