Questions, like ships, need a destination.
It's easy for us to say things like "I should ask better questions" or even regret that "I could have asked a different question."
If we're going to improve our question skills, it's critical that we have a goal we are pursuing. And I don't mean the goal of asking better questions. I'm referring to some desired outcome that better questions will serve.
You see, questions are a means to an end and not an end in themselves.
Jim Collins – the author of the book Good to Great – which sold approximately 10 trillion copies. Ok, maybe more like 4 million copies – anyway – it was a lot. When he sits down with the leadership team of a company – his goal is to get them to see their business differently. And in doing that, he admits that he never brings answers to the conversation, only questions.
Think about that – here is someone who gets paid six figures for a few days of work – and he doesn't bring any answers. And you know what, those leadership teams continue to discuss his questions years after he's been with them.
His objective isn't to be applauded for his ability to ask clever questions – his goal is to change other people – and he's found the best path is through great questions.
Here are some examples of questions he uses:
Which is harder to cultivate within yourself: humility or will?
What is your core purpose, beyond just making money?
What practices in your organization are dysfunctional and should be open for change?
You notice that if you're an executive, the answers to these questions are going to be found in your company's annual report. They require reflection, wrestling, debate, and quite honestly are unanswerable by an outside consultant.
So how do we apply this in our own lives?
Well, take a moment to think about the places where better questions will get you better results.
Is it with a client so you can better diagnose their needs and improve your company's value to them?
Is it with a friend who could benefit from you being a thinking partner in some decisions they're facing?
Maybe it's with a loved one that you want to develop a deeper understanding with.
Or it could be you. By asking ourselves better questions – we can clarify our career path, uncover meaningful work, or maybe build a plan for a healthier life.
Maybe your goal is to persuade someone – asking questions is a powerful persuasion tool because by getting people to contemplate something (which good questions do), we naturally increase the probability of them accepting the idea. It could be as simple as – "When was the last time you had pasta for dinner?" As I think about the answer, my openness to pasta grows.
Or perhaps your goal is to gather information, clarify your understanding, diffuse a tense situation, guide an outcome, or find out how you can best support someone else.
Regardless of the situation – by getting clear on what we're trying to accomplish, we'll immediately begin improving our ability to see what questions will be helpful.
Here's your assignment: Identify an area in your life that asking questions would help you to get better results and then get a clear picture of what success would look like.
In our next episode, we'll discuss the different roles we can take on in using questions.