Advertising
Advertising

Ask Questions

Ask Questions

    Children learn by asking questions. Students learn by asking questions. New recruits learn by asking questions. It is the simplest and most effective way of learning. People who think that they know it all no longer ask questions – why should they? Brilliant thinkers never stop asking questions because they know that this is the best way to gain deeper insights.

    Advertising

    Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, said, ‘We run this company on questions, not answers.’ He knows that if you keep asking questions you can keep finding better answers.

    When Greg Dyke became Director-General of the BBC in 2000 he went to every major location and assembled the staff. They came expecting a long presentation. He simply sat down with them and asked a question, ‘What is the one thing I should do to make things better for you?’ Then he listened. He followed this with another question, ‘What is the one thing I should do to make things better for our viewers and listeners.’ He knew that at that early stage he could learn more from his employees than they could from him. The workers at the BBC had many wonderful ideas that they were keen to share. The fact that the new boss took time to question and then listen earned him enormous respect.

    Advertising

    Columbo solves his mysteries by asking many questions; as do all the great detectives – in real life as well as fiction. All the great inventors and scientists asked questions. Isaac Newton asked,’ Why does an apple fall from a tree?’ and, ‘Why does the moon not fall into the Earth?’ Charles Darwin asked, ‘Why do the Galapagos islands have so many species not found elsewhere?’ Albert Einstein asked, ‘What would the Universe look like if I rode through it on a beam of light?’ By asking these kinds of fundamental questions they were able to start the process that lead to their tremendous breakthroughs.

    The great philosophers spend their whole lives asking deep questions about the meaning of life, morality, truth and so on. We do not have to be quite so contemplative but we should nonetheless ask the deep questions about the situations we face. It is the best way to get the information we need to make informed decisions.

    Advertising

    If it is obvious that asking questions is such a powerful way of learning why do we stop asking questions? For some people the reason is that they are lazy. They assume they know all the main things they need to know and they do not bother to ask more. They cling to their beliefs and remain certain in their assumptions – yet they often end up looking foolish. Other people are afraid that by asking questions they will look weak, ignorant or unsure. They like to give the impression that they are decisive and in command of the relevant issues. They fear that asking questions might introduce uncertainty or show them in a poor light. In fact asking questions is a sign of strength and intelligence – not a sign of weakness or uncertainty. Great leaders constantly ask questions and are well aware that they do not have all the answers. Finally some people are in such a hurry to get with things that they do not stop to ask questions because it might slow them down. They risk rushing headlong into the wrong actions.

    At school, at home, in business, with our friends, family, colleagues, customers or managers we can check assumptions and gain a better appreciation of the issues by first asking questions. Start with very basic, broad questions then move to more specific areas to clarify your understanding. Open questions are excellent – they give the other person or people chance to give broad answers and they open up matters. Examples of open questions are:

    Advertising

    • What business are we really in, what is our added value?
    • Why do you think this has happened?
    • What are all the things that might have caused this problem?
    • How can we reduce customer complaints?
    • Why do you think he feels that way?
    • What other possibilities should we consider?

    As we listen carefully to the answers we formulate further questions. When someone gives an answer we can often ask, ‘Why?’ The temptation is to plunge in with our opinions, responses, conclusions or proposals. The better approach is keep asking questions to deepen our comprehension of the issues before making up our mind. Once we have mapped out the main points we can use closed questions to get specific information. Closed questions give the respondent a limited choice of responses – often just yes or no. Examples of closed questions are:

    • When did this happen?
    • Was he angry?
    • Where is the shipment right now?
    • Did you authorise the payment?
    • Would you like to go to the cinema with me on Saturday evening?

    By giving the other person a limited choice of responses we get specific information and deliberately move the conversation forward in a particular direction.

    Asking many questions is very effective but it can make you appear to be inquisitorial and intrusive. So it is important to ask questions in a friendly and non-threatening way. Do not ask accusing questions. ‘What do you think happened?’ will probably get a better response than, ‘Are you responsible for this disaster?’ Try to pose each question in an innocent way and ensure that your body language is relaxed and amicable. Do not jab your finger or lean forward as you as put your requests.

    Try to practise asking more questions in your everyday conversations. Instead of telling someone something, ask them a question. Intelligent questions stimulate, provoke, inform and inspire. Questions help us to teach as well as to learn.

    More by this author

    Paul Sloane

    Professional Keynote Speaker, Author, Innovation Expert

    Face Adversity with a Smile How to Win an Argument – Dos, Don’ts and Sneaky Tactics How to Get Rich: 11 Bold Moves That Guarantee Wealth How to be a Brilliant Conversationalist Think Laterally

    Trending in Communication

    1 How to Use the Law of Attraction to Make Your Dreams Happen 2 10 Powerful Ways to Influence People Positively 3 How To Be Happy Alone and Enjoy Life 4 What Is Self-Worth and How to Recognize Yours 5 How to Build Self Esteem (A Guide to Realize Your Hidden Power)

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising
    Advertising

    Last Updated on April 6, 2020

    10 Powerful Ways to Influence People Positively

    10 Powerful Ways to Influence People Positively

    Most discussions on positively influencing others eventually touch on Dale Carnegie’s seminal work, How to Win Friends and Influence People. Written more than 83 years ago, the book touches on a core component of human interaction, building strong relationships. It is no wonder why.

    Everything that we do hinges on our ability to connect with others and formulate deep relationships. You cannot sell a house, buy a house, advance in most careers, sell a product, pitch a story, teach a course, etc. without building healthy relationships. Managers get the best results from their teams, not through brute force, but to careful appeals to their sensibilities, occasional withdrawals from the reservoir of respect they’ve built. Using these tactics, they can influence others to excellence, to productivity, and to success.

    Carnegie’s book is great. Of course, there are other resources too. Most of us have someone in our lives who positively influences us. The truth is positively influencing people is about centering the humanity of others. Chances are, you know someone who is really good at making others feel like stars. They can get you to do things that the average person cannot. Where the requests of others sound like fingernails on a chalkboard, the request from this special person sounds like music to your ears. You’re delighted to not only listen but also to oblige.

    So how to influence people in a positive way? Read on for tips.

    1. Be Authentic

    To influence people in a positive way, be authentic. Rather than being a carbon copy of someone else’s version of authenticity, uncover what it is that makes you unique.

    Discover your unique take on an issue and then live up to and honor that. Once of the reasons social media influencers are so powerful is that they have carved out a niche for themselves or taken a common issue and approached it from a novel or uncommon way. People instinctually appreciate people whose public persona matches their private values.

    Contradictions bother us because we crave stability. When someone professes to be one way, but lives contrary to that profession, it signals that they are confused or untrustworthy and thereby, inauthentic. Neither of these combinations bode well for positively influencing others.

    Advertising

    2. Listen

    Growing up, my father would tell me to listen to what others said. He told me if I listened carefully, I would know all I needed to know about a person’s character, desires and needs.

    To positively influence others, you must listen to what is spoken and what is left unsaid. Therein lies the explanation for what people need in order to feel validated, supported and seen. If a person feels they are invisible, and unseen by their superiors, they are less likely to be positively influenced by that person.

    Listening meets a person’s primary need of validation and acceptance.

    Take a look at this guide on how to be a better listener: How to Practice Active Listening (A Step-By-Step Guide)

    3. Become an Expert

    Most people are predisposed to listen to, if not respect, authority. If you want to positively influence others, become an authority in the area in which you seek to lead others. Research and read everything you can about the given topic, and then look for opportunities to put your education into practice.

    You can argue over opinions. You cannot argue, or it is unwise to argue, over facts and experts come with facts.

    4. Lead with Story

    From years of working in the public relations space, I know that personal narratives, testimonials and impact stories are incredibly powerful. But I never cease to be amazed with how effective a well-timed and told story can be.

    Advertising

    If you want to influence people, learn to tell stories. Your stories should be related to the issue or concept you are discussing. They should be an analogy or metaphor that explains your topic in ordinary terms and in vivid detail. To learn more about how to tell powerful stories, and the ethics of storytelling, take a look at this article: How To Tell An Interesting Story In 4 Simple Steps

    5. Lead by Example

    It is incredibly inspiring to watch passionate, talented people at work or play. One of the reasons a person who is not an athlete can be in awe of athletic prowess is because human nature appreciates the extraordinary. When we watch the Olympics, Olympic trials, gymnastic competitions, ice skating, and other competitive sports, we can recognize the effort of people who day in and day out give their all. C

    ase in point: Simone Biles. The gymnast extraordinaire won her 6TH all-around title at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships after doing a triple double. She was the first woman to do so. Watching her gave me chills. Even non-gymnasts and non-competitive athletes can appreciate the talent required to pull off such a remarkable feat.

    We celebrate remarkable accomplishments and believe that their example is proof that we too can accomplish something great, even if it isn’t qualifying for the Olympics. To influence people in a positive way, we must lead by example, lead with intention and execute with excellence.

    6. Catch People Doing Good

    A powerful way to influence people in a positive way is to catch people doing good. Instead of looking for problems, look for successes. Look for often overlooked, but critically important things that your peers, subordinates and managers do that make the work more effective and more enjoyable.

    Once you catch people doing good, name and notice their contributions.

    7. Be Effusive with Praise

    It did not take me long to notice a remarkable trait of a former boss. He not only began and ended meetings with praise, but he peppered praise throughout the entire meeting. He found a way to celebrate the unique attributes and skills of his team members. He was able to quickly and accurately assess what people were doing well and then let them and their colleagues know.

    Advertising

    Meetings were not just an occasion to go through a “To Do” list, they were opportunities to celebrate accomplishments, no matter how small they are.

    8. Be Kind Rather Than Right

    I am going to level with you; this one is tough. It is easy to get caught up in a cycle of proving oneself. For people who lack confidence, or people who prioritize the opinions of others, being right is important. The validation that comes with being perceived as “right” feeds one’s ego. But in the quest to be “right,” we can hurt other people. Once we’ve hurt someone by being unkind, it is much harder to get them to listen to what we’re trying to influence them to do.

    The antidote to influencing others via bullying is to prioritize kindness above rightness. You can be kind and still stand firm in your position. For instance, many people think that they need others to validate their experience. If a person does not see the situation you experienced in the way you see it, you get upset. But your experience is your experience.

    If you and your friends go out to eat and you get food poisoning, you do not need your friends to agree that the food served at the restaurant was problematic for you. Your own experience of getting food poisoning is all the validation you need. Therefore, taking time to be right is essentially wasted and, if you were unkind in seeking validation for your food-poison experience, now you’ve really lost points.

    9. Understand a Person’s Logical, Emotional and Cooperative Needs

    The Center for Creative Leadership has argued that the best way to influence others is to appeal to their logical, emotional and cooperative needs. Their logical need is their rational and educational need. Their emotional need is the information that touches them in a deeply personal manner. The cooperative need is understanding the level of cooperation various individuals need and then appropriately offering it.

    The trick with this system is to understand that different people need different things. For some people, a strong emotional appeal will outweigh logical explanations. For others, having an opportunity to collaborate will override emotional connection.

    If you know your audience, you will know what they need in order to be positively influenced. If you have limited information about the people whom you are attempting to influence, you will be ineffective.

    Advertising

    10. Understand Your Lane

    If you want to positively influence others, operate from your sphere of influence. Operate from your place of expertise. Leave everything else to others. Gone are the days when being a jack of all trades is celebrated.

    Most people appreciate brands that understand their target audience and then deliver on what that audience wants. When you focus on what you are uniquely gifted and qualified to do, and then offer that gift to the people who need it, you are likely more effective. This effectiveness is attractive.

    You cannot positively influence others if you are more preoccupied by what others do well versus what you do well.

    Final Thoughts

    Influencing people is about centering your humanity. If you want to influence others positively, focus on the way you communicate and improve the relationship with yourself first.

    It’s hard to influence others if you’re still trying to figure out how to communicate with yourself.

    More Tips About Making Influence

    Featured photo credit: Wonderlane via unsplash.com

    Read Next