Children ask on average 40,000 questions between the ages of 2 and 5. That’s exhausting just thinking about it and if you are homeschooling, you can probably quadruple that for the last year alone!
But somehow along the way, we lose our questioning ability.
There are many reasons for this:
A fear of looking foolish;
Feeling like we should already know the answer;
An eagerness to impress with our own existing knowledge and opinions;
Not wanting to gather different inputs when a path has already been chosen;
Or have we been rewarded for so long by getting on with it, rather than stopping to ask questions thereby causing a potential delay?
And I am sure you can think of other reasons I have not listed here.
We believe that the use of powerful questions is one of the most unassuming assets in your armoury when working and leading your business with a data mindset. Data can be a complicated concept and different users can have a myriad of definitions as to what data and the use of data actually means. Asking powerful questions can help you to determine the problem, and identify how data can support the resolution or to identify opportunities to overcome it.
Questioning can spur innovative thoughts and ideas, clarify positioning and opportunity, or simply ensure “the decision” is as best as it can be for the end-users needs.
Define the outcome you want to achieve - what you want to know, why you want to know it and what you will do with the information you have gained to drive your business decisions. Of course, it goes without saying that you also need to use good listening skills as asking powerful questions is only one part of the equation!
Think about the way you ask questions, as that can also influence the answers you receive - there’s the usual split of open and closed questions which is well known, and these questions types have a role in different circumstances. We often find that ideas and inputs are generated with open questions, but commitment can be gained with a closed question.
Using language to identify behaviours vs. thoughts and opinions is also another useful distinction - consider what information you are trying to obtain and how will you use the information gained to make a subsequent decision.
Follow up on answers given to questions - you don’t need to take an answer at face value; rapport is built by further questioning against a subject to understand the respondents perspective in greater depth.
Balancing open and closed questioning styles, with engaging and relevant content at both the initial and the follow-up questions, helps you get to claimed behaviours and thoughts without introducing bias into the respondent’s answers. Dale Carnegie advised in his 1936 classic How to Win Friends and Influence People. “Ask questions the other person will enjoy answering.”
Spend time thinking about your questions (longer than you may possibly spend actually asking them) to achieve a balanced rapport that will result in a good exchange of ideas and information, that help achieve your desired outcome.
And it will sound strange, but practice practice practice. Don’t ask questions in one instance, not necessarily get to the answers you need, and then give up.
So our top tips:
Preparation - think about your desired outcome and what you need to know to achieve it, write down your questions and ensure they are engaging so that the respondent will want to answer them.
Balance questioning styles according to what you want from the responded - open for unbiased thoughts, closed for commitment.
Listen to the answers. Using what the respondent shares to evolve your questions builds rapport and generates better quality conversations (and information sharing).
Follow up - don’t just ask one questions, get an answer and move on to the next question on your list.
Practice, practice practice!
The more questions you ask, the better you become at asking questions to get to the heart of the answers and the better informed your decisions. As Albert Einstein once said “Question Everything”