If you ask someone a question, you will receive a response. We have all been taught from an early age to answer questions. Unfortunately, we have not been taught how to ask the right questions at the right time. As a result, most of our conversations are like stones skipping across the water. We only touch the surface of what another person is thinking or feeling.
In many cases, the questions used by a leader, spouse or parent aren’t really questions—they’re camouflaged comments. “Don’t you think we should…” or “Don’t you agree?” are usually not questions. Most of the time when these words are used, one person is trying to convince someone else to agree with their opinion. Too many leaders use these questions in meetings. The leader gets a ‘yes’ response and the illusion of agreement is created. When this happens, the team or teenager walks away disengaged; and what’s worse, their best ideas and feelings were never revealed.
Asking questions to confirm your point of view is very effective for trial lawyers. Great attorneys are taught to only ask questions in a courtroom when they know the answer. The problem for lawyers and leaders is this kind of questioning strategy produces poor relationships and results outside of the courthouse.
Take a minute now to reflect on the kinds of questions you ask every day. The first thing you want to notice is the way you start your questions. Each time you interact with a co-worker, client, family member or friend, you’re either consciously or unconsciously asking a closed or open-ended question. Closed-ended questions elicit a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response. Open-ended questions require a more thoughtful answer. Anyone who’s been in sales for more than a week knows how important it is to ask open-ended questions. However, this fact seems to be forgotten the moment someone starts leading a team or family.
To become better at asking questions, you want to develop the habit of starting your inquiry with these words…who, what, where, why, when and how.
Print out this image and use it next week to remind yourself to ask open-ended questions.
You also want to raise awareness of when you’re asking a question that starts with one of the words from the second column. I’ve found it helpful to ask someone on your team or in your family to help you become better at asking questions. Give them a copy of this image and ask them to only answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ if you ask a question that starts with one of those words.
I think you’ll be surprised at how often you’re asking questions that can be answered ‘yes’ or ‘no.’
It’s also important to discipline yourself to ask more positive open-ended questions.
A question like, “What went wrong today?” creates a negative narrative. Usually, the story being told results in someone feeling discouraged, defensive or defiant. Positive action is rarely taken when someone finishes telling a negative story.
A question like, “What did you do well today?” creates a positive story and the person sharing the information becomes much more motivated to create more success in the future.
These two blogs will be helpful if you want more ideas about creating positive questions and stories.
I believe the quality of your life and the lives of those you lead and love are impacted by the questions you choose to ask. I also believe when you ask, you will always receive. The only question is whether the information is negative or positive.
What do you believe?
Let’s Get Better. Together! Bill Durkin