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How to Ask Better Questions

Do you know how to ask good questions? Really good questions?

It may seem like a dumb question, but most of us don t. We learned the 5 questions words in our high school English class. But we haven t learned how to use the words well.

Our questions tend to be superficial and not deep. Passing and not engaged. We often stop asking them way too soon. We often stop right before the answers become interesting.

When we learn to ask better questions, we can stumble upon amazing discoveries. Perhaps even the opportunity of a lifetime.

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Photo by Clarkston SCAMP (Creative Commons)

Discovering an Opportunity

I have a friend, Stan, who works in a marketing department of a large medical device company. He loves his job and it shows.

One of his strengths is asking incredibly good questions. I have watched him work and he never hesitates to take the next step. All he needs is a place to dig.

His questions really make you think. He is persuasive not through argument, but through his question asking. It is amazing.

His skill has even opened doors that he didn t know existed until he asked.

One day while traveling he decided to ask the man sitting next to him some of these questions. Many of them were routine, but he wasn t just being polite, he really wanted to know the answers.

The responses created an opportunity.

The man seated next to him was an owner of a NASCAR racing team. As they talked further and more questions were asked, the owner asked Stan a question in return.

He was impressed with Stan s ability to connect and unify people. He asked him to be a consultant to his team.

This isn t a position that you can apply for. It isn t posted on Craigslist. Good luck even meeting someone who knows someone who knows someone who owns a racing team.

But this happened for Stan. The opportunity sat hidden next to him disguised in a stranger. Through his better questions, he was able to unearth it.

Asking Better Questions

Here are 5 quick ways to make your questions better.

1. Listen. Most of us are so distracted we pay little attention to the people around us. When we listen, we actually learn who people are. We discover what makes them tick. We learn what we should really be asking.

2. Care. It isn t enough to listen, we also need to care. If we find the person in front of us genuinely interesting, then our questions will get that much better. Our minds and especially our imaginations become engaged when we care.

3. Be Persistent. Don t stop with one question. Keep going. Better questions often develop only after you have asked a few bad ones. With the bad ones, you learn information that help you discover what a good one might be. This isn t a license to be annoying. But please, don t give up easily.

4. Don t Assume. I wonder how many really good questions were not asked because false assumptions were made. I wonder how many opportunities have been lost because these better questions weren t asked. Assume nothing. Ask everything you think might be important or relevant.

5. Explore. Most of your questions are derived from your own perspective on life. If you expand your personal life experiences, your ability to ask questions will improve as well. Don t settle for what you know how about something right now. Learn more. Read. Travel. Explore. Experience.

Homework Assignment

Asking better questions is like everything else in life. It takes practice. Try something new this week. Start asking questions.

The next time you meet someone new, ask them at least 5 questions. One beginning with each of the 5 question words.

If you only ask because of the assignment, then you will fail to discover the magic of asking the next question.

But if you ask out of genuine interest and curiiosity, then I guarantee you will find something even better than a consulting gig in NASCAR. You will discover a new friend.

What helps you ask better questions? Have you had an opportunity develop just because you asked the next question? Share with us in the comments.

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