Questions are an essential tool for any business, but are you asking the right ones in the right way? A question can help you find out information, it can prove a point and it can help you make a sale. So, the most important question is: How do you ask the right questions?
As you may have guessed from the title we are headed for a trusty acronym, one that I came up with to help me when structuring my questions. If you can keep these tips and tricks in mind when you are planning to ask people questions, then you are much more likely to get the answers you need.
Question your questions - what is the question, why are you asking it and who are you asking it to? When you are planning to ask a question, you need to be able to answer these points and more (and many of the following tips relate back to this one).
Understand your goal - a question should have a goal but what that goal is can vary depending on the situation. A question's purpose is rarely as simple as just providing an answer. It is more often along the lines of getting feedback, reinforcing marketing or sales messages and collecting opinions.
Expand on your initial question - your first question will get you your first response, your second question should be about the response you just got. It is a rare and wonderful experience when you ask a simple question and get all the information you need in one go. It is much more likely you will need to encourage people to talk more about the areas you want them to.
Speak the right language - don't get me wrong, I love a bit of jargon and an acronym (as evidenced by this article) but when you are asking questions it is more important to spell everything out in a way that everyone understands than to save a few seconds with a quick abbreviation, IMHO (sorry couldn't resist that one).
Transition from one question to the next - this is not the same as expanding on your question, this is more about planning the flow of your questions. Good questions take people on a journey and the best way to make sure they don't get lost along the way is to plan your route in advance and have a clear vision on where your next question is headed.
Information comes from listening - don't forget the key part of asking a question is getting an answer. Even if you are positive you know what the person's answer will be, make sure you listen to what they have to say. They could surprise you with insights you never thought of and even if they do say what you expect, they still want the chance to tell you.
One thing at a time - one question is usually not enough but multi part questions are not the answer. Expand on answers, transition from question to question but don't ask more than one thing per question. If you ask two or three things in a single question you are more than likely to only get the answer to one of them.
Neutrality - this does not mean all your questions need to be neutral, it just means you need to be aware of their level of neutrality. If you want an unbiased, honest opinion, be neutral. If you want to get someone fired up, push a certain point of view or lead people to a set conclusion, you want it to be anything but!
Now, to finish I want to apply this process to my favourite question (and one of the first ones I ask all of my clients): "Can you do a better job?"
The purpose of this question is to get business owners thinking, with the goal of getting them to value their time more. If your answer is yes, then why didn't you, if it is no, then is the end result good enough? It is not talking about a named or specific task, it covers any task done at work. If you didn't do your best work, how can you make sure you do next time? If you did, and it still wasn't good enough, what does that mean for the future of your business? By applying this to one task at a time you are not trying to solve everything at once, you are eating that elephant one bite at a time and if you pay attention to the results you can apply them in other areas in the future. It is also important that this is a question you ask yourself, and if you can be honest with yourself, and not sugarcoat your answer this simple question can change the way you work and lead to a happier and more profitable business in the future.