The Art of Asking Questions
Have you ever felt that frustration in your life?
You ask a question, and you are not happy with the answers at all?
You wanted to find out something, and the other person is not even close in his answer to what you intended to know?
What is your natural reaction?
The guy is a real dumb one, or he is too clever to dodge the question?
Your frustration level goes up.
At that moment, did you take a pause and think?
Did I ask the question well enough?
Could I have done it better?
Because many times to get a great answer the question has to be equally good.
There is a famous quote from Albert Einstein.
“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask… for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.”
So true, if you can ask that right question, getting the correct answer becomes so much easy.
Asking the right question could even be life-changing.
Like asking apparently simple but profound questions,” why do the apples always fall straight down? Why do they not curve or even fall upward? Could there be something in the earth that attracts the apples?”
Yes, I got it right, it was Isaac Newton who asked himself those questions, and you know the rest is history.
Great innovations the business ideas come from that eternal curiosity and ability to ask the right questions.
A study has shown that top performers have an uncanny ability to ask great questions.
They ask deep questions that lead to common understanding, connect with people, arouse emotions, and inspires action.
In his celebrated book “ Start with a why,” Simon Sinek elaborated how crucial it is to ask yourself about your “why” whenever you pursue something significant.
When starting our venture, most of us start with “what” and “how,” like what business to start, how to start, etc.
People who are driven by their “why” can realize greater success and happiness in their life.
When some adversary happens to us, we ask ourselves, why me?
But when something good happens, we rarely ask why me?
Instead of asking why successful people ask themselves what they can learn from an adversary?
It took me a while to realize that asking great questions is important for professional and personal success until a couple of years back.
After starting my Sales career and as I was honing my skills, that is when I understood the criticality of asking the right questions.
But, why only Sales?
The ability to ask great questions is a critical skill for almost all professions.
In your career, while you are negotiating either a contract with the clients, your promotion with your boss, or a territory allocation with a team everywhere, this skill is needed.
Successful interviewers or television hosts make a huge career out of asking questions.
Assume Oprah Winfrey did not know how to ask those questions to her guest!
Not only in work-life, but even in personal life also this skill is so important.
Now a million question is that how do you ask a great question?
It is not only about intelligence.
Sometimes people ask such long questions, go round and round, bring so many references, and the person who is replying has to ask what your question is?
When you ask a question, it is not to show how much you know, and it's about what you want to know.
If you want to get an honest answer, you have to be sincere, create a safe environment and build trust.
While you need to be a wordsmith, but words matter, particularly in high-stakes situations, it is extremely critical to choose the right vocabulary.
While asking the question, the appropriate tonality, emotion, and respect will always evoke the right responses.
Another crucial thing is that one should not ask an overtly intrusive question in professional conversations.
People may get offended if you ask about their political or religious allegiance.
Even in personal life, you should not ask an overtly intrusive question if the trust is adequate.
When you ask some question, people look for the real intention behind it.
Are you masking your intent, or is it quite explicit?
The responses will also be accordingly.
People do not like to be interrogated, so if you ask questions indiscriminately during a conversation or negotiation, that will be repulsive to the other party.
Do not be robotic, nor do a parroting.
When you ask someone a question that must reflect that you are genuinely interested in knowing, you are in a personal relationship.
Ask people about them, do not only keep telling them about you.
When you meet a very old friend of yours, do you ask about him first or start telling him about you nonstop?
So-called ice breaker questions like asking about the weather could be quite mechanical and monotonous to people.
One best technique is to start with a contemporary subject like I was reading this morning about the economy's growth projection, which is not discouraging at all; what's your view on this?
Above all, timing plays such an important role in asking questions.
You can not ask the final closure question at the beginning of the negotiation.
You have to create a mental sequence of the questions you need to ask in a conversation, interview, or negotiation.
Sometimes in a high stake situation, some questions may sound pretty obvious, and you are unsure whether to ask or not; my take - it is better to ask.
Suppose you are in a negotiation, and you are assuming that they are going to close the deal within the month,
It will be prudent to ask rather than assuming.
At times, it takes courage to ask some questions.
Many times we do not ask questions thinking that we may look stupid.
In such a scenario, the key is to ask that question without offending the other party or not looking stupid.
Create novelty to create an impression, ask a question that may be uncommon, thought-provoking.
In a conversation, if you are good with your questions will be remembered for it.
To get there, you have to be informed about the subject or the person.
It may call for some research on your part; do not be overdependent on your impromptu skills.
Then you have to know when to ask an open-ended question when to ask a closed-ended question.
We use an adjoining question to expand the context.
Say, how will this project create other impacts other than financial goals?
Then there are funneling questions to dive deeper into the subject.
You said the project would create secondary employments; how is that be possible?
Many times, we use elevating questions to understand the underlying big picture.
What are underlying bigger concerns with the shrinkage of operating margins?
You may want to know it will impact employee welfare budget, reduce R &D budget, cut down on Advertisements or Capex investments, etc.
We all ask a lot of clarifying questions either by paraphrasing or simply by asking, “would you explain once more, or can you tell me a little bit more ?”
Asking question is a science as well as an art.
While tools and techniques may help, achieving a natural flair and a great fluidity is largely an extension of your personality.
Of course, practice makes it perfect.
Lastly, we mostly forget to be gracious and thankful to the other party for their answers.
Next time do not forget to say “Thank you.”