Much has been written about the role of “the question” in being a great leader, building a successful business, sparking innovation, creating a collaborative environment and deepening relationships. Well-crafted questions can help uncover the communications challenges your business may be facing and guide you, quickly, to a solution worth testing.

Rhett Powers, author, columnist at Inc.com and co-founder of the toy company, Wild Creations, reminds leaders that, “If you’re not asking questions every day, you’re missing the opportunity to:

  1. Find better ways to improve processes, create new business, and recruit loyal customers
  2. Discover possible flaws or challenges in your company
  3. Engage employees in strategic planning and creative thinking

Asking questions shows a leader’s vulnerability as well as their respect for the people they lead.

Warren Berger, author of “A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas,” demonstrates that the most creative, successful people in the world tend to be expert questioners—raising questions that no one else is asking and finding the answers everyone else is seeking.

In looking at innovation, he explains, “I found that questioners often started by trying to understand and frame a problem—and that tends to involve a lot of why questions. Why is this a problem? Why hasn’t anyone solved it? Why might it represent an opportunity?”

“At some point, the innovator moves from ‘why’ to ‘what if’ questions—imagining possible solutions, often by connecting ideas. “What if we tried X?” “What if we combined Y with Z?”

As an example, he points to the Polaroid story. Back in the 1940s, Edwin Land was on vacation with his 3-year-old daughter. He snapped a photograph of her, using a standard camera. But she wanted to see the results right away, not understanding that the film must be sent off for processing.

She asked, “Why do we have to wait for the picture?” After hearing his daughter’s ‘why’ question, Land wondered, “What if you could develop film inside the camera?” That one ‘why’ question inspired Land to develop the Polaroid instant camera.

Becoming an “expert questioner” is a skill that can be developed by following the “Ten Tips for Asking Good Questions” listed on dummies.com.  They are summarized as follows:

  • Plan your questions. Before your meeting, outline your information goals and a sequence of related questions to help you follow the conversation and cue your notes.
  • Know your purpose. Every question you ask should help you gather either facts or an opinion. Know which kind of information you need and frame your questions accordingly.
  • Open conversation. Unlike simple yes-or-no questions, open-ended questions invite the respondent to talk — and enable you to gather much more information.
  • Speak your listener’s language. Relate questions to the listener’s frame of reference and use words and phrases that your listener understands.
  • Use neutral wording. A neutral question elicits accurate information or an honest opinion and is much more helpful.
  • Follow general questions with specific ones. Build a hierarchy of questions that begins with the big picture and gradually drills down into specifics with follow-up questions.
  • Focus your questions so they ask one thing at a time. To get more complete answers, craft short questions, each of which covers a single point. If you really want to know two different things, ask two different questions.
  • Ask only essential questions. If you don’t really care about the information that’s likely to come, don’t ask the question. Respect the other person’s time and attention.
  • Don’t interrupt. Listen to the full answer to your question. The art of good questioning lies in truly wanting the information that would be in the answer.
  • Transition naturally. Use something in the answer to frame your next question. Even if this takes you off your planned path for a while, it shows that you’re listening, not just hammering through your agenda, and it ensures that the conversation flows naturally.

Quicksilver values the role of the right questions in identifying the communications challenges your organization may be facing. We have a Consulting Framework that will take you through the right questions and enable us to recommend a solution. Contact us today!