How to come up with powerful questions
“I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.”
When Rudyard Kipling wrote this poem, could he imagine that he was giving an important tip on networking? Although not only on networking.
The ability to ask the right questions is a skill that is indispensable in all life situations: when meeting new people, during a job interview and even in a marriage.
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When I speak about the power of questions, the first thing I advise is to make them open. These are the questions that do not presuppose an answer “yes” or “no.” And this is where the “Kipling words” come in.
Why open questions?
First, that way you get more profound information.
Compare, for example, 2 questions:
– Did you like this speaker?
– How did you like this speaker?
One can answer the first question without even thinking. Responding to the second, a person first has to ponder how to “cover the topic” best. And it is possible that his or her answer will contain some useful additional information that you didn’t even consider.
Secondly, having received the full answer, you can find something in common with the person or ask a follow-up question. In short, it will become easier for you to continue and manage the conversation.
Try adding “a flavor” to the usual questions. For example, instead of “How did you like this speaker’s performance?” you can ask “Whose speech would make you go to another city or country? Why?”Or “Which celebrity would you like to meet and talk to? Why?” That way people will remember you as a very interesting conversation partner. In addition, it will allow you to get to know them from different perspectives and build relationships easier.
Remember your goals
Any question should be asked for a specific purpose, for example:
- start a conversation and break the ice:
“What a delicious coffee break today! What’s inside these cookies?”
- get the information you need:
“In what social networks may I find you?”
- to build rapport:
“How did you celebrate your daughter’s birthday?”
- prove you are an expert who understands the subject under discussion:
“How dangerous are quantum computers to bitcoin?”
- improve relations with someone and clear up all the misunderstandings:
“I understand that I‘ve upset you. What can I do to fix the situation?”
The more serious your goal is, the more carefully you need to think through the questions in advance. For example, if you are going to interview an entrepreneur for Forbes magazine, then impromptu questions like “How big is your business?” will not work.
First, do your research, study the information from the open sources. By the way, I give the same advice to the people who often attend events. The event organizers always publish the list of speakers in advance. So why not spend 5 minutes Googling the information about the person you are going to listen to for an hour?
Perhaps you will find out that you have common interests or common acquaintances, determine how you can be useful to each other or, at least, prepare questions in advance. This way you will get much more from the event.
Use simple language
The shorter the question is, the better. Do not resort to the formula “2 in 1”: “Why did you choose this strategy for your business and how do you plan to implement it?” If you are interested in two questions, it is better to ask them one by one. Make it easy for the person you are talking to. Especially if it’s your new acquaintance: the conversation should go nice and smooth.
For the same purpose, it is better to avoid complicated language and professional jargon. This applies not only to business terminology. For example, I have great respect for various spiritual practices, but your interlocutor is not obliged to know who Nisargadatta Maharaj is or what the Akashic records are.
Therefore, when you meet people, try to use simple language and universal topics. For example, after a person introduced him or herself and said what they do, you can continue with:
– How interesting! And why did you choose this profession?
Speak less and listen more
For some reason, people often think that in order to interest others, they must speak as much as possible, telling something extraordinarily entertaining. This is not true because any person is primarily interested in him or herself.
Ask an interesting, deep question and let your conversation partners talk about themselves. You may think: “Well, what’s in there for me?” Listen carefully, and people will tell you about their needs and problems that you can be a solution to.
For example, a person tells you that he is looking for a mentor or coach, and you are the one. Or somebody wants to learn English, and your friend is an excellent tutor. Opportunities are everywhere, sometimes you just have to listen.
By the way, the ability to listen and ask the right question is very helpful in interpersonal relationships.
Imagine that your spouse accuses you of a mess in the house. Try not to yield to the temptation of answering back. Instead of interrupting or attacking, ask a clarifying question: “In which rooms do you see the mess?”
Or just agree: “Yes, you are right.” And then ask about a possible solution to the problem: “What do you think we can do to make our house clean?” Using questions, you can easily turn the coming conflict into a constructive settlement.
Questions are a very powerful networking tool. To make it work for you, do not forget these simple rules:
- Ask open-ended questions that begin with the words “how”, “what”, “why”, “what”, etc.
- Do not ask questions out of idle curiosity. Do it for a specific reason. The bigger your goal is, the more seriously you need to prepare your questions.
- First, do your research and gather some information about the person who you want to talk to.
- Add a “flavor” to the usual questions to make them more interesting.
- Use simple language.
- Learn to listen and wait for the person to tell you about his or her problems that you can be a solution to.