I just participated in the selection process of the Harvard Business Review “McKinsey award for best HBR article” for 2019. The three articles nominated for the prize where very interesting, but the one by Alison Wood and Leslie K. John caught my attention because it was about questions. Are you good at asking questions? Do you systematically ask questions in a meeting? They called Questioning a “powerful tool”, and after you read the article (by the way the link is here: “The surprising power of questions”) you cannot but agree with them.
The good about it is that this is something at everybody’s reach. It’s another of those “soft-skills” that nobody taught me at school nor university; but being aware of the power of questioning and putting it to practice can not only improve the productivity of your exchanges but also improve the perception that others have of you.
In any conversation there is an exchange of information (on the subject we are talking about) and an exchange of impressions (sentiment that the words said provoke on the listener). When asking questions you learn more about the information you are receiving, getting then a better understanding of the problem or the situation at hand at the same time that you are building trust with the messengers by caring to hearing them. you may have guess that to accomplish those both results your questions must be effective and your answers carefully thought. 😉
First rule is to be a good listener, so your questions will be pertinent and your counterpart feels he or she is heard. They also mention this basic advice: ask questions the other person will enjoy answering… Yes! To ask to the person who found the solution to a problem how he did it will allow him to explain it all over again, to show off and have his glorious moment a little bit more, even if somebody had already reported you the full answer!
Most people don’t grasp that asking a lot of questions unlocks learning and improves interpersonal bonding”
Ask small things about them to your colleagues, it will create a climate of trust, they’ill see you care about them, they are not invisible to you. By knowing them better we understand what moves them, their fundamental concerns and their particular points of view. Their values and concerns will be reflected in future discussions so knowing them will help to understand the basic issue and come around it.
Here are some tactics the authors pointed out:
- Favor follow-up questions to solicit more information.
- Know when to keep questions open-ended, so that you don’t feel interrogated. On negotiation processes, favor negative assumptions because people will open up more to the problems they have encountered (“this business will need some new equipment soon, isn’t’ it?”) than if you have formulated the questions as if there was never a problem (“the equipment is in good working order, right?”)
- Get the sequence right: Tough questions first work better to reveal sensitive information, but does not help if you want to build relationship with your counterpart.
- Use the right tone: People are more forthcoming when you ask questions in a casual way
- Pay attention to group dynamics: don’t forget that members of a group tend to follow one another’s lead.