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Asking Effective Questions

How you ask questions is very important in establishing a basis for effective communication. Effective questions open the door to knowledge and understanding. The art of questioning lies in knowing which questions to ask when. "Address your first question to yourself: if you could press a magic button and get every piece of information you want, what would you want to know? The answer will immediately help you compose the right questions."

Choosing Questions

Ask a specific question if you want to hear a specific answer. Open – as opposed to leading – questions are those that cannot be answered with a straight "yes" or "no". Use open questions to gain insight into the other person's character, and to invite the response.

Learning Questions

To profit from experience you must be open and willing to learn, even from what some people might consider a failure. What may seem to be a failure can actually lead to new opportunities. Effective learning questions can serve as a starting point for the assimilation of learning.

Coaching Questions

Being the core component of the coaching ask / tell repertoire, coaching questions are "to prompt the learners into exploring issues in depth either by direct questions or by implied questions – even a raised eyebrow – so that they become more aware of what is going on and can eventually coach themselves and others. Feedback can then be used to discuss progress and provide guidance, but still by using questions and the main vehicle for progress whenever possible."

Pretending Ignorance: Smart Is Dumb

Socrates used this technique more than 2300 years ago. He pretended ignorance in order to encourage others to express their views fully.

Today, many world's smartest and fastest businesspeople have perfected this art – consciously or unconsciously – of playing dumb. "People who try to impress by pretending to be smart generally aren't. Truly smart people know that by playing dumb and asking the other party to repeat or explain things several times, asking lots of questions, they'll be better prepared to respond and then make a fast decision."

Question Based Selling (QBS)

In sales, asking the right question is just as important as knowing what to say. Salespeople must know how to ask the right questions at the right time to clients and customers in order to identify new opportunities, qualify accounts and uncover needs.  This is the principle behind Question Based Selling (QBS).7

Selling Is Problem Solving

Business Communication: The First Contact

To build relationships and network with people effectively, the only thing you need to do is to ask them all about their business and what they do. What questions should you be asking to create the right situation for perfecting it?

Searching Questions

Searching questions can help you discover new opportunities, uncover the roots of a problem, and find creative solutions to it.

Asking searching questions starts with challenging assumptions. If you do not check assumptions you cannot be good at asking searching questions. Don't ask one or two questions and then rush straight towards a solution. With an incomplete understanding of the problem it is very easy to jump to wrong conclusions.

Ask open-ended questions that elicit a wide range of answers:

  • 'Why' questions  to discover the roots of the problem

  • 'How' questions to discover different routes to significant improvement
     

Case in Point  
Dell Computer Corporation

"It is really dangerous if everyone in a company starts thinking the same way", says Michael Dell, Founder of the Dell Computer Corporation. "The danger comes when you fall into the trap of approaching problems too similarly. You can encourage your people to think about your business, your industry, your customers innovatively. Ask a different question – or word the same question in a different way. By approaching a problem, a response or an opportunity from a different perspective, you create an opportunity for new understanding and new learning. By questioning all the aspects of our business, we continuously inject improvement and innovation into our culture."

Case in Point  
25 Lessons from Jack Welch

To Jack Welch, the legendary former CEO of General Electric, business leadership is all about knowing what questions to ask of his subordinates. That's all managing is, says he: just coming up with the right questions and getting the right answers.

 

References:

  1. "Super Communication - the NLP Way", Russel Webster

  2. "Essential Manager's Manual", Robert Heller & Tim Hindle

  3. "Strategic Learning in Action", T. Grundy

  4. "How To Be Better at Delegation and Coaching", Tony Atherton