Asking good questions may be the most important, yet least developed, skill for personal and professional success.
One popular belief holds that we win friends and new business by being clever and quick on our feet, and that our brilliancesaying just the right thingis what attracts others. But knowing the right question to ask is actually far more valuable than having a ready answer.
Good questions can help you:
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.”
The six questions that follow can help you improve relationships, manage priorities and enjoy greater influence.
Many people talk too much, and too few know how to listen effectively. As Henry David Thoreau once wrote in his diary, “The greatest compliment was paid to me today. Someone asked me what I thought and actually attended to my answer.”
Studies repeatedly demonstrate that we care most about people who listen to us. People crave appreciation, and they seek out those who will listen to them. There is nothing more potent than asking, “What do you think?”
Instead of assuming there’s a shared meaning, ask for clarification. You’ll be surprised at how people answer. By asking fundamental questions, you take the conversation to a deeper level. You engage people and make them think. Instead of imposing your views, encourage others to examine their assumptions.
Ask people how they got their first job or decided to go into a particular field. Background questions provide a better understanding of another’s frame of reference. Everyone has a storyand unless you ask, you’re missing key pieces of the human puzzle.
You’d be surprised at how many people actually appreciate it when you encourage them to do better. Instead of accepting their first efforts, give them an opportunity to improve. Don’t let them coast. Call attention to their strengths, and suggest that they’re capable of doing more. Don’t let mediocrity or convenience replace stretch goals.
Peter Drucker’s Five Magic Questions
Management guru Peter Drucker posed five questions to his corporate and organizational clients, which can be applied to your personal and professional life:
Use these and other power questions to add excitement and meaning to your conversations. You’ll be surprised at the stories that unfold, thereby deepening your relationships.