5 Ways Questions Should Not Be An Interrogation

Have you ever been asked a really great question? 3 aspects of great questions are:

1. They make us think.

2. They lead us deeper inside our own purpose and toward finding our own answer.

3. We believe the person asking a great question has great value.

Our power is in the question, not the answer. It is better to know some of the questions than to know all the answers. We can’t process all the information we have now – we need more congruence and caring.

“A wealth of information leads to a poverty of attention.”  

“There are two kinds of light. The glow that illuminates and the glare that obscures.” ~ James Thurber

We will follow someone who asks a great question before we follow someone with a great answer. Questions should be designed to learn, to build trust and to not ridicule. Here are 5 ways for our questions to be relationship-building instead of an interrogation. This update is an excerpt from Charlie Brennan’s work in “Take Your Sales to the Next Level.”

1. Questions are curious instead of challenging. For example, “Help me understand what you are doing?” spoken in your best Shirley Temple voice. Imagine the same question asked this time with your most agitated Donald Trump voice. Get the idea? Questions are most effective when phrased to genuinely learn and asked with a curious tone. Even if you think you know the answer, genuine, curious questions will be the first step toward building trust, improving relationships, being more likable, and gaining more influence and power. It all starts with a great question. Most questions we ask are not great – in fact they are boring, causing us to give the same answers over and over to everybody.  

2. Questions are designed for dialogue and not recital. Have you ever watched a celebrity on the talk show circuit? They get asked the exact same mundane question, by every interviewer from New York to LA. “What’s it like to work with Robert De Niro?”  “How long did it take you to write your book?” Or, “When did you learn you were a good cook?” Yawn! The person being asked these questions, as well as the listener – we all get bored fast – just as our spouses and clients get bored with our same tired questions. These are called recital questions because our answers are automatic and based on things we already know. Our answers are as conditioned as flight attendants saying, “Please bring your tray table to its upright and locked position.” Our questions need to cause people to think.  

3. Questions make us think. We like trivia games or puzzles and they are a great way to learn because they are fun. Asking questions that cause both the listener and the speaker to  learn is incredibly powerful. We need to make asking questions a game. These questions require a comparison, such as, “Help me understand how working with De Niro on this movie was different than when you worked with him 10 years ago?” Or,  “Describe for me the differences in working with Robert  De Niro versus Tom Hanks?” Comparisons of time frame, personalities, geography or even other news articles are all more interesting and are all capable of making us think.

4. Questions should stop integrating the word ”why.” Yes, getting to why is everything in negotiating, selling, debating and learning but the actual word “why” is polarizing, for three reasons:

a. ‘Why’ is a like a rear-view mirror – we can do nothing about that input. We can change nothing about the past – so ‘why’ questions can be frustrating.

b. We become defensive, since “why” questions were challenging for us as children  – why did you do that, why isn’t your homework done, why is your room not picked up? The ”why” question becomes a childish question and we feel it causing us anxiety or defensiveness.

c. Why questions can lead to a debate and a win-lose mindshift. Questions should open up discussion but not stifle ideas and learning.

Questions should be more rich, allowing us to learn about someone else’s viewpoint. That is the essence of “why” questions – to try to get to a person’s motivation or the bigger picture behind statements or actions. The better questions sound like, “So you were frustrated at that point?” Or, “You must have been disappointed at that turn of events?” Make a question about them – what they are saying or seem to be feeling. Those questions can provide reinforcement, encouraging the speaker to follow their train of thought. These questions, the ones that allow the speaker to continue their thought process, are what creates great value in the questioner, since they are focusing on the speaker and not on themselves.

5. Start your question with words that lead the listener to tell a story. Stories are so important in getting visuals and allowing everyone to see what the real issue may be. Use less of “Who, What Where, When and How,” and more of “Help me understand” and “Can you share with me” and “Please tell me more about” and “Describe for me the details.”

Asking questions allowing others to be more clear and complete in their statements creates better pictures and allows our comments to be more relevant.

That’s dialogue. Isn’t that the goal?


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