Another Good Reason to Ask More Questions
This morning on NPR, I listened to Shankar Vedantam, the host of Hidden Brain, an award-winning podcast about the unconscious patterns that drive human behavior. Shankar invited Karen Huang, a researcher at Harvard, to share her research findings – that people like us better when we ask them questions!
This is one more good reason to master the art of asking great questions! At Nebo, we often teach leaders how to use curious, open-ended questions to develop and empower others. People are often astonished to realize how valuable others find it when they ask a good question instead of just giving advice. Recently, a client described this realization as a huge relief: “I don’t have to have all the answers!”
I encourage you to take yourself off the hook for having to solve every problem with wise counsel or a solution. Instead, just ask a curious question.
Here are a five simple tips from the domain of coaching to help you frame a powerful question:
- Get curious about the person, not just the situation. Many of us take pride in being great problem-solvers. Shift your lens, however, from trying to understand the problem to learning more about the person who is having it. “What concerns you most about this?” “What do you wish you could say?” Your interest and care will be appreciated!
- Frame open rather than closed questions: Open-ended questions can’t be answered with yes, no or factual information. Open-ended questions prompt conversation and fresh thinking. Closed questions shut down the conversation because they can be answered more transactionally with a simple “yes” or “no.”
- Begin your question with the word “what.” For example, “what’s your next step?” or “what is important to you about this?” Try to avoid using “why” as your opener. Why? Because “why” questions tend to put the other person on the defensive.
- Keep your questions simple. Often, we ask a question after a long preamble to explain our own thinking. Try a simple, direct approach. The more powerful the question, the more gently you can state it. You might explore this a bit with questions like: “what do you really want?” or “what do you need?” or “what are your concerns?” The simpler, the better, then step back and really listen.
Have fun experimenting with questions – and rest assured that if you are genuinely interested in someone and care about his or her responses, your questions will deepen the relationship and make you more popular!