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How to Be Amazingly Good at Asking Questions

How to Be Amazingly Good at Asking Questions

“Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.” ― Voltaire

Are you being judged by your questions? Not moving forward in your career, business, marriage, or fill in the blank _______? It could be because you are not asking the right questions. You need to be good at asking questions.

You might not be getting the feedback you need to make corrections in your behavior. You might not be getting type of answers that you need to hear. You also might just be getting downright wrong information.

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What Do You Want?

When you ask a question, you have to know what you want for an answer. I spent quite a few years in the military. We had intelligence reports coming in; we needed data, not someone’s opinion. That meant we wanted strictly the information. We did not want any interpretation. Just the facts, ma’am. When you are asking questions, make sure you put it in the right context.

Other times you might want someone’s opinion. For example, “What do you think of this cologne?” Sometimes you want a reasoned opinion or advice. “What is the route to get from uptown to downtown?” As you get ready to ask your question, make sure you have the right source and they know what you want from them.

  • Do I need a factually correct answer?
  • Do I need an expert opinion?
  • Do I need a well-reasoned judgment?

How to Be Amazingly Good at Asking Questions

Once you know what kind of information you need and who to ask, you have to ask your questions in a manner that gets the best possible information in response. Asking amazing great questions is skill like any other skill, it takes practice. Here are some techniques to draw out what you need to know.

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1. Don’t Ask Yes or No Questions

When you ask a yes or no question, you will most often get incomplete information. Instead, ask an open-ended question. By using an open-ended question you get insights and additional information you might not have known existed. Questions with “would,” “should,” “is,” “are,” and “do you think” all lead to yes or no. Questions with “who,” “what,” “where,” “when,” “how,” or “why” lead to people giving some thought to their answers and provide much more information.

2. Dig Deeper

Always consider using follow-up questions. Unless you are looking strictly for the facts, there is some sort of assumption in the answer the person gives you. Ask them a follow up question such as, “What makes you say that?” or “Why do you think that?”

Let’s say that you are talking to a co-worker and need to know details of a project. Your co-worker tells you that one of the suppliers has been very difficult to work on the project. You will want to follow up on that comment. A question such as “What do you mean he is difficult to work with?” will lead you to the real facts. It may not be because the supplier is particularly difficult to work with but rather is not reachable for quick communications or any number of outside reasons. Follow up questions give you insight and let you make your own opinions about things.

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3. Use the Power of Silence

Start getting comfortable with asking a question, waiting for response, listening to the response and then waiting some more. Many times the person you are questioning has more information and will bring it out when you wait for it. You have to be comfortable with that silent period before the dam breaks. Police and military interrogators use silence very effectively. People feel a need to fill the holes in the conversation and often they will then bring out the critical bit of information you seek.

4. Don’t Interrupt

Don’t interrupt the person with whom you are talking. First, it tells the person you don’t value what they are saying. Interrupting stops their train of thought and directs the conversation the way you want, not necessarily the way it should go. Ask your question, then let the person answer it in full, even when you think you are not getting the answer you want. Listen fully to what they are saying and use that to direct them back to the topic in the next question when there is a natural pause.

If time is of the essence and the person has long strayed from the topic, then of course you need to interrupt. Be as polite as possible when doing it. This shows the person that you do respect what they are saying. Say something like, “Excuse me, I want to make sure I understand you. What I heard you say is…” and then bring them back on point to the matter at hand.

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As you go forth in your quest for knowledge, remember that asking great questions takes practice. This implies that you probably won’t get it perfect every each outing. Just get started asking questions. Your skills will improve over time. Remember that if you want good answers, they come from asking good questions.

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Last Updated on August 6, 2020

6 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak

6 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak

We’ve all done it. That moment when a series of words slithers from your mouth and the instant regret manifests through blushing and profuse apologies. If you could just think before you speak! It doesn’t have to be like this, and with a bit of practice, it’s actually quite easy to prevent.

“Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another.” – Napolean Hill

Are we speaking the same language?

My mum recently left me a note thanking me for looking after her dog. She’d signed it with “LOL.” In my world, this means “laugh out loud,” and in her world it means “lots of love.” My kids tell me things are “sick” when they’re good, and ”manck” when they’re bad (when I say “bad,” I don’t mean good!). It’s amazing that we manage to communicate at all.

When speaking, we tend to color our language with words and phrases that have become personal to us, things we’ve picked up from our friends, families and even memes from the internet. These colloquialisms become normal, and we expect the listener (or reader) to understand “what we mean.” If you really want the listener to understand your meaning, try to use words and phrases that they might use.

Am I being lazy?

When you’ve been in a relationship for a while, a strange metamorphosis takes place. People tend to become lazier in the way that they communicate with each other, with less thought for the feelings of their partner. There’s no malice intended; we just reach a “comfort zone” and know that our partners “know what we mean.”

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Here’s an exchange from Psychology Today to demonstrate what I mean:

Early in the relationship:

“Honey, I don’t want you to take this wrong, but I’m noticing that your hair is getting a little thin on top. I know guys are sensitive about losing their hair, but I don’t want someone else to embarrass you without your expecting it.”

When the relationship is established:

“Did you know that you’re losing a lot of hair on the back of your head? You’re combing it funny and it doesn’t help. Wear a baseball cap or something if you feel weird about it. Lots of guys get thin on top. It’s no big deal.”

It’s pretty clear which of these statements is more empathetic and more likely to be received well. Recognizing when we do this can be tricky, but with a little practice it becomes easy.

Have I actually got anything to say?

When I was a kid, my gran used to say to me that if I didn’t have anything good to say, I shouldn’t say anything at all. My gran couldn’t stand gossip, so this makes total sense, but you can take this statement a little further and modify it: “If you don’t have anything to say, then don’t say anything at all.”

A lot of the time, people speak to fill “uncomfortable silences,” or because they believe that saying something, anything, is better than staying quiet. It can even be a cause of anxiety for some people.

When somebody else is speaking, listen. Don’t wait to speak. Listen. Actually hear what that person is saying, think about it, and respond if necessary.

Am I painting an accurate picture?

One of the most common forms of miscommunication is the lack of a “referential index,” a type of generalization that fails to refer to specific nouns. As an example, look at these two simple phrases: “Can you pass me that?” and “Pass me that thing over there!”. How often have you said something similar?

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How is the listener supposed to know what you mean? The person that you’re talking to will start to fill in the gaps with something that may very well be completely different to what you mean. You’re thinking “pass me the salt,” but you get passed the pepper. This can be infuriating for the listener, and more importantly, can create a lack of understanding and ultimately produce conflict.

Before you speak, try to label people, places and objects in a way that it is easy for any listeners to understand.

What words am I using?

It’s well known that our use of nouns and verbs (or lack of them) gives an insight into where we grew up, our education, our thoughts and our feelings.

Less well known is that the use of pronouns offers a critical insight into how we emotionally code our sentences. James Pennebaker’s research in the 1990’s concluded that function words are important keys to someone’s psychological state and reveal much more than content words do.

Starting a sentence with “I think…” demonstrates self-focus rather than empathy with the speaker, whereas asking the speaker to elaborate or quantify what they’re saying clearly shows that you’re listening and have respect even if you disagree.

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Is the map really the territory?

Before speaking, we sometimes construct a scenario that makes us act in a way that isn’t necessarily reflective of the actual situation.

A while ago, John promised to help me out in a big way with a project that I was working on. After an initial meeting and some big promises, we put together a plan and set off on its execution. A week or so went by, and I tried to get a hold of John to see how things were going. After voice mails and emails with no reply and general silence, I tried again a week later and still got no response.

I was frustrated and started to get more than a bit vexed. The project obviously meant more to me than it did to him, and I started to construct all manner of crazy scenarios. I finally got through to John and immediately started a mild rant about making promises you can’t keep. He stopped me in my tracks with the news that his brother had died. If I’d have just thought before I spoke…

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