The art of communicating, in my opinion, isn’t given enough weight when discussing business success. Being able to formulate questions that deliver useful answers, is a skill that every professional (and people, in general) should hone to ensure a better chance at success. Good questions can move your business, organization, or career forward. They squeeze incremental value from interactions, the drops of which add up to reservoirs of insight.
The problem is, most of us ask terrible questions. We talk too much and accept bad answers (or worse, no answers). We’re too embarrassed to be direct, or we’re afraid of revealing our ignorance, so we throw softballs, hedge, and miss out on opportunities to grow.
But we don’t have to.
The following advice can help you with communicating, not to mention being a better conversationalist:
Don’t Ask Multiple-Choice Questions
When people are nervous, they tend to ramble, and their questions tend to trail off into a series of possible answers. (“What’s the most effective way to find a good programmer? Is it to search on Monster or to go on LinkedIn or to talk to people you know or … uh… uh… yeah, is it to, um…is there another job site that’s good …?”) You’re the one with the question; why are you doing all the talking? Terminate the sentence at the question mark. It’s OK to be brief.
“The really ‘bad’ questions are leading ones–the questions where you’re fishing for a particular answer,” says veteran journalist Clive Thompson. First of all, if you know the answer, why are you asking? If you’re seeking confirmation on something you already suspect, ask objectively, and ask directly. You’ll come off as confident (and less of a chump), and you’ll get more honest answers.
Interject With Questions When Necessary
Stopping a conversation to ask the right questions is far superior to nodding along in ignorance. Notice how great interviewers like Larry King or Jon Stewart maintain control of their conversations; it’s almost always through polite interruptions–not with things they want to say, but with questions that keep the Q&A on course. Mature people will rarely be upset by interruptions that let them continue talking. To the contrary, additional questions make people feel like they’re being listened to.
Repeat Answers Back For Clarification Or More Detail
If you’re getting vague responses–or complicated ones for that matter–restate the answers in your own words. (“So, your software will email me any time there are important news stories in my industry?”) This will typically yield either a definitive “that’s correct,” or a clarification with extra detail. Either way, it’s useful for getting a precise answer.
Don’t Be Embarrassed
The worst kind of question is the one left unasked. There’s typically no point in pretending you know something when you don’t. People are much kinder than we often give them credit for. If you are unsure about something, just ask.
And if you ask a bad question from time to time, it’s okay. It happens to the best of us. The advice in this article, however, is a good starting point to asking better questions, communicating more effectively, and moving forward in your professional success.
(Information from: Fast Company)
What other tips can you suggest for asking better questions?