Do you know how to ask good questions? Really good questions? The kind of questions that get straight to the heart of the matter, that unravel the true meaning behind vague statements, that get people to share their fears and vulnerabilities, and that help you paint a truer picture of a story?
Asking good questions is the best way to gain powerful insight…the kind of insight that helps you understand yourself and others better, get more out of your relationships, improve your decision making, and have a more open mind. Knowing how to ask good questions is one of the most powerful tools you can have in your toolbox.
Sadly, most of us are terrible at asking questions and we don’t even know it. We ask easy questions when we should be asking hard ones. We keep it superficial when we should be going deeper. We stop asking questions way too soon…just when the answers are about to get interesting. We get the tongue-tied, chicken out, makeup excuses, give up and don’t ask.
Asking good questions will improve your life, relationships, career, and business. They allow you to get the most out of every interaction. Better questions equal more insight, information, and knowledge. Who doesn’t want all of that?
Want to improve your question asking skills? Here are some of my tips.
Be curious…really curious. I am often asked how I get people to open up to me so easily and my response is simple: I am genuinely interested in what people have to say. My goal is to walk away from all my conversations having learned something more about the person, topic, or situation. To do that, I have to ask meaningful questions…questions that lead the conversation down the path to greater insight, connection, and knowledge.
Ask open-ended questions. Asking yes or no questions is the fastest way to a dead-end conversation. The good news is that it’s easy to tell when you’ve asked one…you will get a yes or a no. It seems rudimentary but asking who, what, when, where, why, and how questions will always give you better answers and will help you know what to ask next. If you are at a loss, say something like, “tell me more about that.”
Listen with both ears. Don’t let yourself be distracted by emails, texts, your thoughts, and your desire to tell your story. When you listen with both ears, you are more likely to catch the nuances in the words, tone, and voice inflection which when explored, lead to deeper understanding. When you hear nuance or something that sparks your curiosity, ask a question as simple as, “what did you mean by that?” Also, listening with both ears means you are talking less which is a surefire way to gain more insight.
Don’t be afraid. Oftentimes people are too embarrassed to ask questions in fear of showing ignorance or being considered as “too direct.” Or perhaps they worry that asking probing questions will come across as intrusive or nosy, but I have found that most of the time, people want to open up, give answers, and share their stories. In my opinion, the worst kind of question is the one left unasked.
Practice, practice, practice. Just like any skill, repetition will make you better. Before you go into a conversation, write down at least five open-ended questions you could ask. If you don’t understand something, ask for more information, and don’t stop until you feel like you’ve got it. If the person gives a benign answer, ask a question that takes her deeper. When you think the conversation is over, ask one more clarifying question. Don’t be afraid to interject and ask a question in the middle of someone’s story. Most people don’t mind the interruption and it shows that you are truly engaged. Your questioning skills will get better the more you ask so practice, practice, practice.
Don’t Assume. Believing that you know what the person’s answer is going to lead to miscommunications and false assumptions. Even if you think you know, ask anyway. Don’t let the opportunity for further clarification and deeper understanding pass you by…you will be surprised at what you learn about the answer…and your assumptions.
I have found asking good questions has made me a better leader and person. They allow me to get past superficial answers and surface-level relationships and truly connect with those around me. These deeper connections have enriched my life and world. I have built the strongest of relationships through being curious about others. I have met amazing people in unassuming places because I am not afraid to make a personal inquiry. I have been able to help people in times of need and pain because I can ask questions that help them get to the root of the problem. I have increased self-awareness because I am not fearful of asking for feedback that gives me a deeper insight into myself and my effect on those around me. And I have gained valuable knowledge about my world that helps me make better business and life decisions.
“Ask and thou shalt receive.” I couldn’t agree more.
Thank you for reading and as always I appreciate comments, likes, and shares. Want more? Check out this blog on curiosity.