Four Powerful Questions You Can Start Asking Today
Do you ask powerful questions? Or do your questions allow meaningless, trivial answers? A good question encourages people to think before answering, and to give more detailed information. It can allow deeper levels of understanding about a person, topic, or situation. The right question brings out new insights and highlights new solutions. Powerful questions are a key success factor at work.
The most powerful questions are short and open-ended. They open the way for people to think more deeply about a problem or topic, and to share those thoughts. Rather than cutting off conversation, they encourage it. And they are not about the questioner, but about the answer. Here are four powerful questions you can start asking today.
Better and Powerful Questions Get Better Answers
What was that like?
This is a regular question from Anna Sale of Death Sex and Money. It works for personal topics, and also for reviewing experiences. If you are a mentor, use this question to help your mentees reflect on an experience and draw out lessons. In a ‘lessons learned’ exercise it sheds light on the impact of a decision.
Tell me more about..
A favorite question of Christopher Lydon of Open Source, this one is the ultimate open-ended question. The response can go anywhere: the interviewee’s personal opinion, or data, or poll results, or anecdotes. The answers are amazing! It’s also a go-to question in meetings: a way to gather information, diffuse tension (‘tell me more about your concerns…) and encourage dialogue (‘tell me more about how this affects you /your team’)
Why do you think s/he/they reacted that way?
Another Anna Sale favorite, this one asks for speculation and encourages empathy. To answer the ‘why’ question, you have to put yourself in the other person shoes. What upset them? Why didn’t they laugh? Why did they encourage (or discourage) you? The answer usually starts with ‘I don’t know but…’ What follows are often uncomfortable truths or incredible insights.
Really great interviewers appreciate silence. They make an agreeable noise and then wait for the other person to be ready to add more. Angie Mazetti of Women In Leadership uses this quite well, particularly when interviewing groups of women, giving all of her guests time to air their views. Again, deep insights often follow. In a business setting, people who are comfortable with silence give the reflectors in the group time to prepare an answer. They often get more information than the person who fires off a series of fast questions.
Ask Questions and Learn
These are all open-ended questions; they don’t allow yes/no answers. By encouraging reflection, they uncover new information, more details, and divergent opinions. Asking open-ended questions takes patience; you may have to wade through long, unstructured answers to get what you need. Get used to it and you will have better information, better relationships with colleagues, and make better decisions!