In a conversation, do you remember the last time someone really focused on you? When they were genuinely curious about you? Do you remember how that felt? When others are curious about us – about who we are, what we’re interested in, what we think and what matters to us – we feel good. We appreciate it. You can have a powerful impact on people simply by being curious and asking questions.
Asking powerful questions may be one of the most important, yet least developed, skills for personal and professional success. In the work I do, coaching leaders and executives, we discuss the art of asking questions. You would be surprised at how many smart leaders are great at providing answers, but fall short in asking powerful questions.
A popular belief holds that we win friends and new business by being clever and quick on our feet, and that our brilliance – saying just the right thing – is what attracts others. But being curious and asking questions of the other person is far more valuable than having a ready answer.
Powerful questions – the kind that invite you to think and open up the conversation – help you to:
- Evoke discovery and insight
- Open the mind and fuel conversations
- Reframe and redefine a problem
- Challenge underlying assumptions
- Inquire for greater understanding, awareness and clarity
- Examine new perspectives
- Innovate for the future
- Forge important relationships
- Gather information
- Focus us on what’s most important
Be curious and ask questions. When others are curious about us we feel good. Click To Tweet
Transformational teachers like Socrates, Jesus, Mohammed and Buddha were masters at using powerful questions as teaching tools, forever changing the lives of their disciples. Albert Einstein and Peter Drucker were 20th-century intellectuals who were known for asking provocative questions.
In Power Questions: Build Relationships, Win New Business, and Influence Others (Wiley, 2012), consultants Andrew Sobel and Jerold Panas present more than 200 significant questions, along with stories about how to use them.
“The questions we select have the power to give life to conversations in unexpected and delightful ways,” they write. “They are powerful tools to get directly to the heart of the matter. They are the keys to opening locked doors.”
Here’s an example of a powerful question that can help your leadership, improve relationships, manage priorities and enjoy greater influence
“What would you like to know about…?”
When people ask you to describe your company, job or services, clarify their intent before you start talking. What are they interested in learning? Don’t assume you know. Giving a five-minute answer to the wrong question is not ideal. If time is tight, make sure your answer is brief and on target by asking: “What part of my background interests you?” or “What would you like me to focus on?”. After you respond, ask if you’ve answered the question and if there’s anything else they want you to cover.
The next time you are asked about your company, or your job, be sure to ask a few clarifying questions before you answer. You might be surprised at how the conversation unfolds.