Wednesday, April 7, 2010

How to ask good questions.

Post 461 - The average 5-year old asks 200 questions a day. The average 20-year old asks 20-30 questions a day. So, most people learn to stop asking questions as they get older. When I first started coaching CEOs and business owners, I quickly learned the value of asking questions instead of providing answers. A good coach knows how to elicit a client’s best thinking and to have the client say what they haven’t said, dream what they haven’t dreamed, think what they haven’t thought about. You do this by asking many more questions than you give answers.

As Don Miguel Ruiz advises in The Four Agreements, “Don’t make assumptions. Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life. We have millions of questions that need answers because there are so many things that the reasoning mind cannot explain. It is not important if the answer is correct; just the answer itself makes us feel safe. This is why we make assumptions. We make all sorts of assumptions because we don’t have the courage to ask questions.”

If you want to help someone come to terms with their problems or opportunities, remember that most people aren't going to reveal what the real issue is after the first question. The real issue is usually two or three questions deep. Finding the right questions is crucial to finding the right answers.

in this kind of situation, here are ten smart questions:
- What has to be done?
- Can you explain the process?
- How do you feel about it?
- Can you explain that further?
- What are some of the reasons this didn’t work as well as you hoped?
- What are we pretending we don’t know?
- What could you do to improve the situation?
- What can you change to make this work better?
- What key results are you looking for?
- What can I do to help you?

According to Michael J. Marquardt in Leading with Questions: How Leaders Find the Right Solutions by Knowing What to Ask, the most effective and empowering questions create value in one or more of the following ways:
- They create clarity: "Can you explain more about this situation?"

- They build better working relationships: Instead of "Did you make your sales goal?" ask, "How have sales been going?"

- They help people think analytically and critically: "What are the consequences of going this route?"

- They inspire people to reflect and see things in fresh, unpredictable ways: "Why did this work?"

- They encourage breakthrough thinking: "Can that be done in any other way?"

- They challenge assumptions: "What do you think you’ll lose if you start sharing responsibility for the implementation process?"

- They create ownership of solutions: "Based on your experience, what do you suggest we do here?"

There's great value in asking proactive questions. Executives appreciate it when you act as a thought partner and demonstrate your concern for the business and its results. And they value questions that get the answers without undue prying or intimidation.

Try these tips for asking better questions:

- Keep them open-ended. Ask provocative questions that encourage others to think for themselves. Start questions with "why" or "how."

- Don't lead. Avoid asking questions you already know the answer to.

- Encourage solutions. "What do you suggest we do to get the best results?" is a great question because it elicits ownership.

- Help clients to create a questioning culture by encouraging others to ask critical questions as well.

1 comment:

David Moynan said...

Thanks John.

I have been searching for a good guide on how to ask questions to train my new hires in this art.

This is better than anything I've come across in even HBR.

Great work, thank you!