During a listening exercise, a young woman asked a question I’ve never asked.
I led a group on a listening exercise. The instructions were simple.
Listen to ask a question.
She asked, “How did that become important to you?” Her question invites a story.
The anatomy of a question:
- Openness to explore.
- Willingness to learn.
#1. Avoid, “Why is that important?”
- Might feel like accusations.
- Invite reasons. The answer to a “why question” is a reason, not a relationship.
- Encourage excuses. “Why did you hit your brother?” is answered with a justification.
I often ask, “What makes that important to you?”
- “What” invites reflection. (You might say “why” invites reflection and you’d be right. I prefer “what.”)
- Adding “to you” invites personal reflection.
#2. Good questions are short.
The longer you talk before asking a question, the more you answer your own question.
Avoid long stories and elaborate explanations before asking questions.
“Tell me more,” is a great question that isn’t really a question.
A good question might be, “Hmm,” combined with raised eyebrows and a smile.
#3. Avoid questions that begin with didn’t, don’t, isn’t, or couldn’t.
“Don’t you think…,” is an assumption pretending to be curious.
Assumptions offend curiosity.
The person who asks a question that begins with didn’t, don’t, isn’t, or couldn’t is trying to:
- Judge your intelligence.
- Look smart.
- Control the conversation.
- Give an answer by asking a question.
#4. Practice silence.
Stop talking after asking a question.
Use eagerness to talk as a trigger to zip it.
Don’t mistake introversion for listening. An introvert can be as arrogant and disinterested as an extrovert.
If you try the “Listen to ask a question” exercise, don’t answer the question. The point is to learn how to ask questions, not answer them.
Questions are invitations to connect.
What suggestions for questions might you add?
Better Brainstorming (HBR)