In the computer industry, there is a saying “Garbage in, Garbage out”, a popular truth. If you put the wrong information in, you’ll get the wrong information out. Same goes for communication as well, if you ask the wrong question, probably you’ll get the wrong information. It’s not only important to listen effectively (Read our blog ‘Are you listening to what people are really saying? Or are you hearing?’) but also to ask the right question so that you can take the conversation to the next level, for example to understand the other person better, build stronger relationships and manage people more effectively. Powerful questioning compliments effective listening.
I’ll share a difficult situation that made me realize how bad I am at asking questions and I need to build my skills on this. I was talking to a friend of mine, who was working as Sales Manager in one of the largest FMCG companies. He was telling me about his last quarter and how he couldn’t get his team to meet the targets and now the team’s morale is very low. The conversation went something like this:
Friend: I want to share with you about my team performance in last quarter.
Me: Tell me what happened
Friend: We had a very aggressive target to achieve, and one of my strongest team members had personal issues, was away for almost a month. The rest of the team was so laid back, that despite of me meeting them daily, morning and evening to catch up on numbers didn’t work. They were always struggling and coming up with excuses.
Me: Are you poor at managing people?
Me: Whose fault was it?
Friend: Not mine
Me: Do you want to change your team?
Friend: I haven’t thought of that. Ok I need to go, I am in rush
Me: But you said, you want to talk…
Asking questions, it sounds so simple, but very often, what you are trying to ask gets lost despite of your best intentions.
I was feeling miserable and kept thinking what did I do wrong, that my friend left in such a hurry, I was only trying to help him. But he never came back with his issues or any problems ever, which made me reflect on the questions that I had asked him. I realized that I had to build my skills in questioning techniques. There are many different types of questions that one can ask, but we need to become familiar with how and when to use the different types of questions that will enable us to achieve our objective of the conversation more easily. After much reading and practice, I started working on my questioning techniques.
I would like to share with you some of the learning that has helped me improve my questioning technique. I always ask these questions to myself about the conversation I was to have with the other person which helped me clarify the objective:
1> Define your objective of the conversation – Information, Knowledge, Discovery or Action
2> Decide the way you want to attain this – Enquiry, Probing, Clarity or Directing
3> Actively listen to response and respond back accordingly
You should be clear in your objective, whether you need to clarify understanding, gain commitment or to overcome objections, learning which type of question will best achieve your aim is essential for a successful leader. A successful leader knows when to listen (Read our blog ‘How to have effective conversations? Key is “How to listen” and not talk’ on tips for effective listening) and when to ask questions. It’s best to start by listening (Read our blog ‘How to have effective conversations? Key is “How to listen” and not talk’ on tips for effective listening). Powerful questions enable you to engage the other person into a discussion and lead them to think through the issues, providing you a better insight into the issue/problem. Positive powerful questions are meant to create awareness. They help integrate information already stored in different parts of the brain. Questions are undeniably a magic tool that allows the genie in your mind to meet your objective for the conversation.
These questions helped me gain clarity of what I wanted to achieve from the conversation. By understanding the objective of the conversation and then asking the right set of questions not only helps in learning, but also relationship building and avoiding misunderstandings. I will be talking about some situation and the kind of questions to ask or not to ask to have an effective conversation. Look out for our next blog on “What kind of questions to ask”.