Do you find that attending social events fills you with dread as you never know what to say to people. In an earlier post I shared with you simple tips to networking and making introductions that will make life much easier for you. This article is going to share with you how to ask great questions to have people opening up to you without you feeling like you are continually pulling teeth or information from anyone.
Asking Good Questions
Two of the most basic elements of good communication are asking questions and listening to others. Some of us naturally ask a lot of questions, while for others this is a learned skill. We can plan questions prior to meetings or conversations as a way to ensure our questions have thought and depth to them.
There are two kinds of questions: open and closed.
We spend a lot of our lives asking and answering questions, but we aren’t always aware of how we ask questions. Open questions in particular often give us difficulty, which is unfortunate since they are the most important ones for us to become skilled at using.
Closed questions are those that can be answered by either “yes” or “no,” or with a specific bit of data, such as your name, date of birth, or occupation. These questions restrict our responses and give us little opportunity to develop our thoughts before answering. As a result, these questions require very little effort on either person’s part. They can be used (intentionally or unintentionally) as a way to close down a conversation.
Closed questions tend to get over-used, in part because they are so easy to work with. They are easy to phrase and we get quick answers. This type of questioning can cause us to make assumptions as we create fuller answers in our minds, and assumptions can be big barriers to good communication.
Open questions, on the other hand, encourage people to talk. These questions are phrased so they cannot be answered with a simple yes or no. Open questions often begin with a variation of the five W’s (who, what, when, where, why), or you can ask how.
Open-ended questions can be used to:
- Get information
- Focus conversations
- Solicit opinions
- Gain consensus
The unintentional use of a closed question can often be overcome by simply following it with a short open question. For example:
- “Do you feel that was the right thing to do?”
- “Yes, I do.”
- “Can you help me understand why you feel that way?”
Using Open Questions
Here is an example of a closed question:
- Do you like ice cream?
Replacing it with an open question provides us with more information:
- What’s your favourite flavour of ice cream?
The first question will only tell us whether the person likes ice cream or not. That’s a closed situation. The second question will let us know a little bit about the person. It could also lead to follow up questions depending on their answer. Questions that are open ended will help us learn more about the people we speak with, establish things that we have in common, develop rapport, and make meaningful connections.
Good open questions include:
- “What is your opinion?”
- “How do you think we should solve the problem?”
- “What would you do in my shoes?”
- “Tell me more about…”
Note: Be very careful about “why” questions. All too often these questions sound like accusations, and the listener immediately becomes defensive.
Open questions give us more information because:
- They encourage other people to talk
- We get opinions and ideas from others
- They can help us determine if people have interpreted what we say correctly
- They can help us arrive at consensus much more readily
It is easier to build relationships with potential customers if we become skilled at asking questions that give us more information about that person and their wants and needs. The questions help us find common ground with someone, show the person we are interested in them, and we put the emphasis on them rather than us.
Good person-focused questions can include:
- What do you think we can do about this?
- What would you like me to stop doing?
- Would it be helpful if I…?
- Supposing we were to…?
- Help me understand where you’re coming from?
- Let’s set a time when we can talk about the changes we’re prepared to make.
- I’m prepared to… Would that ease the situation?
It is possible for you to ask someone an open question and for them to be evasive or try to shut the conversation down. Children are famous for this when a parent says, “What did you learn at school today?” and they reply, “Nothing.”
One of your team members may come see you after a meeting, and you say,” How’d the meeting go?” and they say, “Fine.” If you want to engage them, you’ll have to ask a follow up question. Some examples:
- What was the most interesting point raised in the meeting (or at school)?
- What were the challenges that we need to consider?
- What questions did the group ask?
Types of Open-Ended Questions
There are several different types of open-ended questions.
We can ask leading questions to influence how people think (“Don’t you just love the way vanilla ice cream smells?”).
Rhetorical questions are ones that we don’t really want an answer to, such as “Do I look like I care?” Rhetorical questions can be used to engage your conversation partner and make them think about the obvious answer. (They may also be something that you blurt out because you are thinking out loud!) A rhetorical question can engage the listener in a persuasive manner as they process your ideas.
Tomorrow I will continue this post with details on how to delve and probe deeper while remaining comfortable in the conversation.
If you would like to test your business etiquette knowledge complete this quiz to see how you would do in a social situation.
Clare Maxfield is available for coaching or staff training on all elements of your business Personal Branding. Contact her now to discover how she can help you.