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

    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 Write A Killer Resume In Seven Easy Steps

    Trending in Communication

    1 19 Golden Pieces of Relationship Advice From the Experts 2 Signs Of Low Self-Esteem And The Root Causes You Might Not Know 3 How to Communicate Effectively in Any Relationship 4 How to Live in the Moment and Stop Worrying About the Past or Future 5 This Is What Happens When You Move Out Of the Comfort Zone

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising
    Advertising

    Last Updated on May 21, 2019

    How to Communicate Effectively in Any Relationship

    How to Communicate Effectively in Any Relationship

    For all our social media bravado, we live in a society where communication is seen less as an art, and more as a perfunctory exercise. We spend so much time with people, yet we struggle with how to meaningfully communicate.

    If you believe you have mastered effective communication, scan the list below and see whether you can see yourself in any of the examples:

    Example 1

    You are uncomfortable with a person’s actions or comments, and rather than telling the individual immediately, you sidestep the issue and attempt to move on as though the offending behavior or comment never happened.

    You move on with the relationship and develop a pattern of not addressing challenging situations. Before long, the person with whom you are in relationship will say or do something that pushes you over the top and predictably, you explode or withdraw completely from the relationship.

    In this example, hard-to-speak truths become never- expressed truths that turn into resentment and anger.

    Example 2

    You communicate from the head and without emotion. While what you communicate makes perfect sense to you, it comes across as cold because it lacks emotion.

    People do not understand what motivates you to say what you say, and without sharing your feelings and emotions, others experience you as rude, cold or aggressive.

    You will know this is a problem if people shy away from you, ignore your contributions in meetings or tell you your words hurt. You can also know you struggle in this area if you find yourself constantly apologizing for things you have said.

    Example 3

    You have an issue with one person, but you communicate your problem to an entirely different person.

    Advertising

    The person in whom you confide lacks the authority to resolve the matter troubling you, and while you have vented and expressed frustration, the underlying challenge is unresolved.

    Example 4

    You grew up in a family with destructive communication habits and those habits play out in your current relationships.

    Because you have never stopped to ask why you communicate the way you do and whether your communication style still works, you may lack understanding of how your words impact others and how to implement positive change.

    If you find yourself in any of the situations described above, this article is for you.

    Communication can build or decimate worlds and it is important we get it right. Regardless of your professional aspirations or personal goals, you can improve your communication skills if you:

    • Understand your own communication style
    • Tailor your style depending on the needs of the audience
    • Communicate with precision and care
    • Be mindful of your delivery, timing and messenger

    1. Understand Your Communication Style

    To communicate effectively, you must understand the communication legacy passed down from our parents, grandparents or caregivers. Each of us grew up with spoken and unspoken rules about communication.

    In some families, direct communication is practiced and honored. In other families, family members are encouraged to shy away from difficult conversations. Some families appreciate open and frank dialogue and others do not. Other families practice silence about substantive matters, that is, they seldom or rarely broach difficult conversations at all.

    Before you can appreciate the nuance required in communication, it helps to know the familial patterns you grew up with.

    2. Learn Others Communication Styles

    Communicating effectively requires you to take a step back, assess the intended recipient of your communication and think through how the individual prefers to be communicated with. Once you know this, you can tailor your message in a way that increases the likelihood of being heard. This also prevents you from assuming the way you communicate with one group is appropriate or right for all groups or people.

    Advertising

    If you are unsure how to determine the styles of the groups or persons with whom you are interacting, you can always ask them:

    “How do you prefer to receive information?”

    This approach requires listening, both to what the individuals say as well as what is unspoken. Virgin Group CEO Richard Branson noted that the best communicators are also great listeners.

    To communicate effectively from relationship to relationship and situation to situation, you must understand the communication needs of others.

    3. Exercise Precision and Care

    A recent engagement underscored for me the importance of exercising care when communicating.

    On a recent trip to Ohio, I decided to meet up with an old friend to go for a walk. As we strolled through the soccer park, my friend gently announced that he had something to talk about, he was upset with me. His introduction to the problem allowed me to mentally shift gears and prepare for the conversation.

    Shortly after introducing the shift in conversation, my friend asked me why I didn’t invite him to the launch party for my business. He lives in Ohio and I live in the D.C. area.

    I explained that the event snuck up on me, and I only started planning the invite list three weeks before the event. Due to the last-minute nature of the gathering, I opted to invite people in the DMV area versus my friends from outside the area – I didn’t want to be disrespectful by asking them to travel on such short notice.

    I also noted that I didn’t want to be disappointed if he and others declined to come to the event. So I played it safe in terms of inviting people who were local.

    Advertising

    In the moment, I felt the conversation went very well. I also checked in with my friend a few days after our walk, affirmed my appreciation for his willingness to communicate his upset and our ability to work through it.

    The way this conversation unfolded exemplified effective communication. My friend approached me with grace and vulnerability. He approached me with a level of curiosity that didn’t put me on my heels — I was able to really listen to what he was saying, apologize for how my decision impacted him and vow that going forward, I would always ask rather than making decisions for him and others.

    Our relationship is intact, and I now have information that will help me become a better friend to him and others.

    4. Be Mindful of Delivery, Timing and Messenger

    Communicating effectively also requires thinking through the delivery of the message one intends to communicate as well as the appropriate time for the discussion.

    In an Entrepreneur.com column, VIP Contributor Deep Patel, noted that persons interested in communicating well need to master the art of timing. Patel noted,[1]

    “Great comedians, like all great communicators, are able to feel out their audience to determine when to move on to a new topic or when to reiterate an idea.”

    Communicating effectively also requires thoughtfulness about the messenger. A person prone to dramatic, angry outbursts should never be called upon to deliver constructive feedback, especially to people whom they do not know. The immediate aftermath of a mass shooting is not the ideal time to talk about the importance of the Second Amendment rights.

    Like everyone else, I must work to ensure my communication is layered with precision and care.

    It requires precision because words must be carefully tailored to the person with whom you are speaking.

    Advertising

    It requires intentionality because before one communicates, one should think about the audience and what the audience needs in order to hear your message the way you intended it to be communicated.

    It requires active listening which is about hearing verbal and nonverbal messages.

    Even though we may be right in what we say, how we say it could derail the impact of the message and the other parties’ ability to hear the message.

    Communicating with care is also about saying things that the people in our life need to hear and doing so with love.

    The Bottom Line

    When I left the meeting with my dear friend, I wondered if I was replicating or modeling this level of openness and transparency in the rest of my relationships.

    I was intrigued and appreciative. He’d clearly thought about what he wanted to say to me, picked the appropriate time to share his feedback and then delivered it with care. He hit the ball out of the park and I’m hopeful we all do the same.

    More Articles About Effective Communication

    Featured photo credit: Kenan Buhic via unsplash.com

    Reference

    Read Next