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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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The Gentle Art of Saying No

The Gentle Art of Saying No

No!

It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

  1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
  2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
  3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
  4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
  5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
  6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
  7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
  8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
  9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
  10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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