The topic of asking better questions came up recently in conversation in the context of having productive 1-on-1 meetings. The person with whom I was having the discussion suggested that everyone talks about asking better questions, but so few people do so. He went so far as to ask me what questions should we be asking? That in and of itself is a tough question.
In the setting of a 1-on-1, where I’m trying to learn about someone’s business and their specific customer needs, I typically ask the following two questions.
“Tell me about a project you’re currently working on, or a client with whom you recently worked?”
The response will give me a better picture of the business in question (and the business person).
The second question is simply, “What can I do to help you in your business this week?”
Far better than either of these questions, however, are the following practices.
Don’t ask “Yes” or “No” questions. Duh! Sales 101, right? It’s also relationships 101. Asking open ended questions puts us in a great position to actually listen, which brings me to the next practice.
Listen more, and don’t interrupt. I struggle with the not interrupting part, being a sufferer of that syndrome that constantly tells me I have something very important to say. Listening carefully and with intent, as if having genuine interest is best. It may take practice, but it’s so worth it (usually).
Let moments of silence happen. After someone answers your question, allow awkward moments of silence linger. It’s at this very moment that one is likely to say something extremely insightful. This is a skill I’ve come to admire in others, allowing the silence to linger. It’s possibly the most difficult of these practices to master. At least for me. You’ll recall that aforementioned voice in my head.
Dig a little deeper. Deep dive. Ask follow-up questions like, “Why do you feel that way?,” “What makes you say that?,” or “Can you explain what you mean…” This is a golden practice for market research and conversation. The responses you get may be absolute gold.
So you see, the art of asking better questions isn’t about asking anything specific. It’s about open-ended questions, listening and actually caring.