The Art of the Question

If I’ve learned one truism consistent across leadership, sales, life (and even parenting) during decades of working with people, it’s this:

  • People do not want to be told what to think.
  • People do not want to be told what to believe.
  • People do not want to be told how to feel.
  • People do not want to be told what to do.

It doesn’t matter how correct you are or how much the facts are on your side. Telling others what to think, believe, feel, and do builds resentment and impedes effective dialogue. It leads to quibbling and arguing. And, by no means, does anything good ever come from telling someone “you are wrong.”

Instead, I continually seek to improve my skills in the art of quality questioning and effective storytelling.

For example, the other day a colleague came to me to ask, “what do you think of our videos?” I reviewed them and had a definite opinion both as to their efficacy for business development and production quality. However, I faced two unknowns when determining my response: 1) what does my colleague already think of the videos, and, 2) does my colleague genuinely desire feedback and direction?

Rather than fall on my sword to deliver a response that might be rejected or even met with hostility, I spent some time preparing for our conversation and created a series of questions to draw him to his own conclusion.

  • What kind of videos do you watch online?
    • —– answer —–
  • So, you watch things that entertain or educate you?
    • —– answer —–
  • OK, now think about your videos, are they entertaining or educational?
    • —– answer —–
  • Do you think your prospective or existing clients will find them entertaining or educational? Think about [name], do you think he would find them that way?
    • —– answer —–
  • Do you think the subject will grab a viewer’s attention enough to choose to watch one?
    • —– answer —–
  • And, if they do watch, will it intrigue them enough to continue watching past 10 seconds?

The end result? Without even sharing my opinion, my colleague came to the realization that the videos would not effectively attract, interest, nurture nor convert viewers into clients. He was challenged by the questions, they led him through a thought process, he came to his own opinion, and appreciated my support in his own discernment. Everybody won.

People learn most comprehensively through their own discovery and realization. To make this happen:

  • Identify the desired outcome.
  • Explore the steps that your own thought process took.
  • Prepare and structure a series of questions to lead him or her there.
  • Write it all down in advance!
  • Share stories, anecdotes or statistics to confirm and validate the course of his or her new discoveries.

And you are on your way! Give this a practice run with your next conversation, and let me know how it works.

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