Friday, November 21, 2008

7 Ways to Harness the Power of Questions

We all ask questions every part of every day from "Did you sleep well?" to "How can we come in under budget?" to "What was the best part of your day?". Simply asking questions isn't enough - you already do that - asking better questions is the key to more success and greater achievements. This article offers 10 ideas separated into three categories designed to help you ask great questions.

We all use questions everyday - in every part of our lives: as a leader, as a peer, as a parent, as a team member, as a spouse. We can't get through the day without asking at least some questions. Even if the only questions you ask all day are:

"How are you doing?", or

"What's new?"

You are still asking questions.

So I'm not going to urge you to simply ask questions; that doesn't make much sense - you already do that. The challenge I have for you today is to ask more and better questions.

When you ask more and better questions you can become more effective as a leader, a peer, a parent, a team member, a spouse and more. Here are ten specific ways that will lead you to asking more and better questions - and as a result become more effective and get better results.

These ideas are categorized, and as you read them you may find that one category is your biggest challenge. If so, focus your improvement efforts there.


It all starts with a mindset. You must recognize the value of questions and decide to change your habits and behaviors as a question asker. These four suggestions will help you make that change.

Be a beginner. If you are an expert, you don't have much need to ask questions because you already know the answers. When you think like a beginner, you learn things or see a perspective that you didn't have before, but only if you ask questions.

Be more curious. Children are the most curious humans, and they ask the most questions. This is no coincidence. While we may not want to ask the same questions that kids ask (though they do ask some great ones), children can be your model for curiosity and for the habit of asking more questions.

Withhold judgment longer. Once we have decided something, or solved a problem, we tend to stop asking questions (potentially bad) or continue to ask but only in a perfunctory way without listening (probably worse). Withhold your judgment a little longer. Ask a few more questions. Most of all make sure you are asking questions for understanding and expansion, rather than simply trying to confirm your assumptions.

Let people answer. OK, this should probably go without saying, but my observation is that it needs to be said. It doesn't matter how great your questions are, if you don't let people answer them.

The Questions Themselves

Ask more questions. The best way to harness the power of questions is just to ask more of them. It is really that simple.

Ask more open-ended questions. Open-ended questions (those that require more than a very short answer) are typically more powerful when trying to understand a situation, a person's feeling or any sort of problem. Audit
yourself and make sure you are asking questions that invite (or require) a longer or more thorough explanation.

Ask bigger questions. Ask more aspirational, longer-term, bigger-picture questions. You will learn more, help others more and find greater power when you include these types of questions in your arsenal.

Collect questions. People collect almost anything (have you been to eBay lately?); one thing I collect is questions. When I hear a great question, I write it down. When I think of a great question, I write it down. Before entering a situation (interview, consulting session, meeting) I try to review some of my questions at least mentally. Having great questions at your fingertips or at the top of your mind will help you ask better questions.

Learning More About Questions

Observe great questioners. Just like any other skill, we can get better by studying masters. If you know someone personally who you think asks great questions, observe, study and even talk to them about this important skill. Beyond those you know, you can watch great interviewers like Charlie Rose, Larry King or Barbara Walters (select your own favorites). While the nature of their situations may be much different than yours, you can learn just from watching them.

Read Dorothy Leeds. Dorothy Leeds wrote two excellent books about questions, and they are worthy of a space on your shelf. Check your nearest bookstore or go online to get a copy of Smart Questions: The Essential Strategy for Successful Managers and The Seven Powers of Questions: Secrets to Successful Communication in Life and Work.

Before I close let me mention this one caveat.

Questions are no different than any other tool - they can be a problem if they are overused. To ultimately harness the power of questions you must ask, but you must not interrogate or pester. You must also remember that asking questions should be a precursor for, not a replacement for, action. Certainly ask, but then make sure that you act on what you have learned.

Using the suggestions above will make a drastic and nearly immediate difference in your results. So, my question is, when will you get started?

Article by - Kevin Eikenberry

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1 comment:

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