Successful people ask better questions and as a result they get better answers – Tony Robbins
The most powerful gift that we have in our communication with others is our ability to ask questions. Sadly it is an ability that most people neglect and it is a gift that remains undelivered in most of our communication.
A neglected ability
Why do I talk about it being a neglected ability? We all ask questions,don’t we? Of course we do but the art of asking questions is more than making a statement and sticking a question mark on the end of it. It is more than setting an objective eg a sale of a product or service, persuasion of some kind and using questions in order to achieve your objective. It is more than a means of getting your point across, getting your own way, discovering answers to enable you to benefit in some way.
We tend to neglect the real art of asking questions, which is to use them as a gift to others. What do I mean by a gift? Well, the biggest free gift that you can give to someone is to ask them questions with no agenda. Questions with no agenda are questions that you ask someone where there is no preconceived objective on your part other than to discover what the other person thinks. These questions are a gift because the message that they send to others is to say ‘you are important.’ In fact they say ‘you are more important than me at this moment in time.’
One of our prime motivations in life other than eating, drinking and staying safe, is our need to feel important. Think about what is motivating you in your life at the moment? Career progression? A change of career? Getting better at what you do? Being a success? Feeling successful? Being a (better) parent? Personal Development? Most of the things that really drive us are done through a subconscious need to feel important.
So by asking a simple question, seeking an opinion, showing interest in someone, you are sending the message across that ‘you are important to me.’
Before I refuse to take your questions, I have an opening statement – Ronald Reagan
Questions without agenda
We mentioned questions without agenda, these are questions that you ask during a conversation where you leave your own beliefs and values at the door of the conversation.
Let’s say that I am sitting talking to a friend and I ask him a question, ‘What are you doing this weekend?’ A seemingly innocent question, and it might in fact be totally innocent, however if I have asked the question in order draw out a similar question in return and knowing that I have a really exciting weekend planned, then it is a question with an attached agenda, it is a mild form of manipulation and the gift is undelivered.
I may ask a series of questions, ‘How is work going at the moment?’ This is a good opener. Followed by ‘Are you still having that problem with your boss?’ Now, the use of the word ‘still’ in the sentence implies that it has been a persisting problem, and it may imply to the others person that they should have fixed it by now. Any implication in a question suggests an agenda. Have I asked the question in order to get across one of my beliefs? Eg A belief that ‘problems need to get sorted out quickly.’ Or is one of my values behind the question? Eg Openness and frank communication in relationships is important to me, this is one of my values.
My next question reveals all, ‘Shouldn’t you do something about the problem? I would challenge them about it.’ This is a question of sorts but am I really interested in hearing the answer? This series of questions could leave the other person feel manipulated and criticised. Far from delivering a gift, I have only made one person feel more important, and that is myself.
Asking questions is an art form and artists spend most of their lives perfecting their craft. The only way to get better at asking questions without agenda is to practice. Next time you are chatting with someone, here are some tips for leaving your beliefs, values and agenda at the door:
- Get in the mindset of being really curious. Get really interested in finding out what the other person has to say.
- Really listen to their answer. Quieten your mind, block out any thoughts that you may have when they are speaking, these are often opinions forming and we are not interested in your opinion, it is theirs that we want.
- Wait for their answer before forming your next question.
- Ask yourself, ‘What do I need to know in order to understand the whole picture?’ Take your answer and use it as a question. What else do you need to know? Ask that question.
- Avoid asking questions using the word ‘why?’ This word sometimes may lead to the person being asked feeling like they are being asked to justify their actions. Eg ‘Why are you going to the shops in the morning?’ This could be misinterpreted as ‘why do you feel the need to go to the shops?’ Or ‘Why go in the morning when you can go this afternoon?’ It is much better and less ambiguous to ask questions using the word ‘what?’ Eg ‘What are you planning on getting at the shops in the morning?’
- Believe in the best in people. Everyone is magnificent in their own right. What do you need to ask in order to let the other persons magnificence to shine through?
Send a gift through your communication today, really listen to people, ask great questions, get curious, show them that they are important. It will make people smile, it is a great way to build relationships and it says ‘I appreciate you.’