If you want to be a great communicator, you have to ask fantastic questions. Great teachers, coaches, therapists, and parents are great because they ask great questions. If you want to grow quickly or have fulfilling relationships, you have to ask fantastic questions. This works in reverse as well. If you are not getting the results that you want, perhaps it’s because you’re not asking fantastic questions.
So, do you want to know how? Here are some suggestions.
Be Clear On What You Want
Ask the question that is going to lead to the information that you are seeking. If you don’t know what you want, you won’t get the right information. If you aren’t clear about what you want, the person you are speaking with won’t be either.
Let’s say that you ask a woman, “What are you doing Thursday night?” She responds, “I’m hitting the gym, then going home.” If you’re trying to get a date with her, you haven’t asked for what you wanted nor have you given her a clear indication of what you want. She might think that you want a favor. Or maybe you are just making small talk. Or maybe you want to join her at the gym. “What are you going Thursday night?” is a far leap from “Will you go out with me.” If you want her to go out with you, make a clear request so that no one is guessing what you want.
Wait for the Answer
Sometimes people think they already know the answer. Sometimes they are afraid of the answer. Or maybe they are thinking ahead to the next question so they keep talking before the other speaker finishes. When you ask someone a question, you’re asking for his attention. If he gives it to you, it’s a gift. Allow him to give it to you. If the answer isn’t important enough to listen to, perhaps you shouldn’t ask the question.
Sometimes the querent speaks because the responder pauses. Wait. Let him gather his thoughts. If he doesn’t know, give him space to say that he doesn’t know. Perhaps he needs to gather courage to say what he needs to say. Don’t rush to fill up the empty space. Give him space to respond. This can lead to a deeper understanding and feeling that you care about what’s being said.
Be Sure You Are Approaching the Right Person
If I want to know how my friend feels, asking his mother may not get me the right answer. If I want to know how much a diamond is worth, I probably don’t want to ask my next door neighbor. Whether it’s subjective or objective information that you want, it matters who you ask. Be sure to ask the person who can give you the information that you seek.
Don’t Ask Yes or No Questions
Yes and no are complete sentences. Sometimes that’s all you want to know. When you ask questions beginning with who, where, when, why, how, should, or could you’re more likely to get a more complete answer. For example, if you were trying to get to know someone, which question do you think would generate more knowledge and insight. A: Do you like music? or B: What do you think about Lady Gaga’s Super Bowl show?
Use Follow Up Questions
Use your first question to engage interest. Subsequent questions are for deepening connection or understanding. This works whether you are getting to know your new boss, flirting, or trying to get sale. You have to have rapport. Ask something like “What do you mean by that?” or “Can you give me an example?” Just be sure that you ask with an open voice and posture so that it doesn’t come across as an interrogation.
Ask Neutral Questions
If you come across like you know the answer, you will dissuade someone from giving you their truth. Or perhaps you will color their response. Either way, that’s not what you want, is it? If you are looking for their real feelings or data, ask for that. “Don’t you think Robert Downey Jr. is the best actor ever?” and “What’s your favorite dish? Spaghetti or lasagna?” both contain subtle pressure to agree or conform. Neither of these gives you accurate information or connection.
Stay in the Moment
Allow what happened a second ago to dictate what is happening now. When both parties are present, conversation flows. We all enjoy this flow. It makes us feel understood and connected. When we jump ahead or get caught up in the past, it ruins the now and can make conversation awkward.
Keep Questions To One Sentence
There is nothing more confusing than a ramble. It’s hard to follow an explanation, followed by a question that is interspersed with musings. Now sometimes that is how being in the moment spills out. It’s not always neat and pretty. If that’s the case, your next question could be, “Could you help me clarify my thoughts?” If the response is yes, then go ahead and ramble. So ramble, get clear, and then ask what you want to know. This can actually be really fun.
So what makes a fantastic question fantastic?
- gets you the information that you want
- reduces confusion
- can reveal more data than you bargained for
- can uncover context that you didn’t have before and maybe didn’t know to ask for
- it deepens the rapport
- leaves both parties feeling affirmed
When you learn how to ask fantastic questions, you’re actually doing a lot of different skills well. You’re being mindful, a good listener, an effective communicator, and a skilled leader. These things can help you to get along better, perform more effectively, feel better understood, and feel more connected to other people. It’s a win/win for everyone.