The Power of Second Questions
“Most people never listen.” Hemingway
Questions are gifts. Asking, followed by listening, says others matter; telling says you matter.
Eager to talk is reluctant to ask.
Enemies of curiosity:
- Disinterest. You really don’t care.
- Need to appear smart.
- Hurry. The need for speed, at least initially, stifles curiosity.
- Knowledge. Those who know don’t ask.
- Answers. Answers end thought.
Pretend you don’t have the answer, you may find another.
- Initiate listening. It’s hard to listen without questions.
- Call for answers. Questions create curiosity and engage minds.
- Ignite self-persuasion.
- Invite connection. Anyone who says they want to connect but never asks questions is confused or deceived about the nature of connecting.
- Guide conversations. Don’t tell people what to talk about, ask questions.
- Teach and open minds.
- Explain priorities. You ask about what matters.
If you want to change results, change questions.
Second questions matter more than first because they explore what matters. First questions address obvious issues. Second questions explore meaning, purpose, method, and/or value.
Exceptional leaders ask second questions.
First question: What’s your mission?
Second question: What makes your mission matter?
First question: Who are your customers?
Second question: What made them become your customers?
First question: What’s frustrating?
Second question: How can you address your frustrations?
Clarify before answering.
Never simply answer when someone asks, “What’s your story?” Always ask, “What do you want to know?*”
Save time, establish priorities, and narrow focus by inviting questioners to declare themselves.
Answer questions with questions, before giving answers.
Some questions are better than others.
- What’s wrong with me?
- What did I do wrong?
- What went wrong? (KaChing)
A favorite question:
I hear what you don’t want. What do you want?
9 Unexpected Questions that Create Engagement
10 Questions that Give Vitality to Beginnings
15 Questions Guaranteed to Create Clarity
*From: “Power Questions,” by Sobel and Panas
How can leaders learn to ask questions?
What are some useful second questions?
As usual, great post. I’m working on becoming bolder so that even initial meetings and conversations go deeper than our jobs and the three-day forecast.
I love the application of questions to the goal of going deeper… powerful application. Thanks
The most constructive way for leaders to learn from questions is to remove themselves (read egos) from the focus of conversation. What’s going on is rarely about you as an individual. Be interested, pay attention. If everything is focused on what you do and what you bring to the table or the conversation, people will stop asking you any questions.
A useful second question that many overlook is that we are often ask how we are, or how our day is going. What if after we answered, we asked the person standing in front of us the same thing and actually listened to the answer to get information, which will inevitably lead to more interesting questions.
Good post as always, Dan.
You are nailing it Martina. Somehow we need to slip away from the thinking that this is all about me. Challenging.
While reading the post, one basic question came to my mind- why should someone listen to me or why should I listen to someone?
How can leaders learn to ask questions? This question makes sense as a second question. We tend to ask others, listen to me. As you mention, we tend to avoid listening. Listening skill is hard to practice and it comes when we have two things- respect for others and curiosity to learn. People who interrupt in between or do not listen properly, have either less knowledge or feel that they know more than others. And this thinking, makes them ignorant about their weakness.
And it provides powerful clue for second question. When someone does not want to listen you, simply ask why should I listen you. And it applies to perhaps everyone. For example, if I think, I am more knowledgeable than others, and others should listen to me, then I should ask self, why I am right. And it creates a kind of inside thinking. And if everyone think before asking the question, it points out to the question of appearing right, trustworthy and knowledgeable to others. One should create a feeling of concerned for others. When other really feels that you are concerned about him, it can change the way people think, speak, listen and argue.
We tend to ask others to listen to us… OUCH! Dang that stings. We don’t ask questions because we want to talk, we don’t want to listen.
Dan, I always enjoy your posts.
There is so much wisdom in asking questions and choosing to listen. What makes it really powerful is when someone not only asks the question, but remembers the answer later. It’s not a tactic for engaging. It’s the way to truly understand someone. Only when you really care does it have the impact you desire.
You push me. Thank you. It’s one thing to ask…it’s another to remember and even bring up later. Now that’s connecting powerfully.
This is such a wonderful observation. I think there’s listening, then there’s r-e-a-l-l-y listening. Someone once asked me, “Are you really listening, or just get ready to talk?”
Still working on this.
Think finding out what is important to the person I am talking with is real important.
Then show them working together can get them close to what they want.
Love the working together idea… How can we work together to get what you want… mmmm
“It’s hard to listen without questions.” Why? Because when we’re not coming with questions we’re not planning on learning anything. Great post. Thanks for this.
Thanks Brent… Listeners plan on learning something. KaPow
I shared this comment, in reference to today’s subject, with my connections on LinkedIn today. I would like to share with you also:
People fail to ask the first question. I am not talking about any question. I am talking about questions that requires thought, has merit, and of substance. Sure, everyone matters. One may find the same people who appears not listening is simply sick and tired of the babbling. Dan’s article states second questions are important. Once again, I agree…only if it converts the babble into clear, concise, and useful information.
Thanks for contributing and for sharing. I truly appreciate it. Cheers
Silence is OK too. Sometimes I have to bite my tongue because the other person is still collecting their thoughts, especially introverted people. Just being available without talking, can be a huge support, especially when people are hurting.
TRUTH… before trying power listening techniques, just start with being quiet. 🙂 Many of us can’t get that one mastered.
On our first date (33 yrs ago) my now husband turned to me and said “It’s Ok to not talk”..ouch! No room to listen when you are talking. Are you familiar with “Just Ask Leadership” by Gary B. Cohen? I took their test and failed miserably, so I have work to do!
Cathy, You can’t fail at the assessment and you can become better. We are taught at a very young age that the know is the answer. It is only after great learning and insight that we learn that the question is the answer. On the assessment the first indicator is the Just Ask Number. If that was low for you it means that you can improve in two specific areas. Trusting others more which we have found from our assessment is very difficult for folks to do. And letting go of knowing. The first step to this is to move from I know to I think I know and the last step is to realize that much of what you know is simply a narrative that you have convinced yourself is true. That is the big leap. Hope that helps and that you become the ask kicker you want to. Gary
I wrote a post for the Lead Change Group on “Asking” that some of your readers might find helpful. http://leadchangegroup.com/managers-do-you-ask-enough/#comments
Thanks for extending the conversation.
I love the notion of “I hear what you don’t want. What do you want?” as a question. People spend so much time trying to avoid the fallout of a bad decision that they rarely focus on what they DO want to happen. (i.e. if we do x, then y and z will follow and that would be catastrophic!) Actually being asked what result WOULD be desirable and allowing the other person to paint the picture of success that they envision would be powerful and enlightening.
This is all good guidance. I especially enjoyed “some questions are better than others.” You illustrated perfectly that (1) we need to be aware of when we are labeling a person in lieu of a situation, and (2) the wording of the question influences the answer.
I found “clarify before answering” even more illuminating. I’ve been on both sides of the assumption that the motivation behind the question should be obvious, and it often leads to confusion or even failed connection.
Thank you for these gifts!
“Pretend you don’t have the answer, you may find another.” What an excellent suggestion!!
I think it goes back to the words of Theodore Roosevelt-
“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”
When people know you care they will listen.Engaging in conversations that are focused on them conveys caring.
Absolutely! I am the Question Guy to my clients. Some of them get frustrated at first as they just want results/answers. Most come to realise that it’s they who have the answers all along – they just need the right questions to realise it. Great post Dan. 🙂
Very insightful post, Dan. Thank you.
Leaders need to know how to ask ‘why’, and of course listen to the response, and ask ‘why’ again….
Hi Dan, Chris Skellett here form New Zealand.
I love this post! Coincidentally,’The Power of the Second Question’ is the title of my most recent personal development book, available through Amazon, etc.
Most initial questions simply seek information, whereas more powerful thought-provoking follow up questions elicit aha moments and wisdom from the recipient. They are big picture questions that extract simple subjective truths from an array of facts.
They invite the respondent to look down (the helicopter view), to dig deep (for gems and pearls of wisdom) to look ahead (for inspirational vision) and to look back (across the broad sweep of our lives).By asking Second Questions we help others discover who they are, what they believe in, and where they are going.
Your post addresses all this really well.
Hi Dan. Just came across this blog 6 years too late!! Ive written a book called The Power of the Second Question. They are the more insightful follow ups to a simple factual question.
The best summary statement from the bok reads: “There are two types of question in this world…those that require answers and those that induce insight”.
Book available through Amazon etc.
Loved your blog, even if it came to me late!!