Don’t Leave Value on the Table: Ask Better Questions

What is one thing you can change in your conversations that alone would dramatically increase the value of them?

Your questions.

There is a big difference between asking a question and asking a question well. And that difference…makes all the difference. Whether you are asking the questions or answering them, making a few changes in this area can help you gain more value every interaction: from mentoring to research to interviews, and even in your everyday conversations. Here are some ways you can improve the way you ask questions:

Don’t bias the answer.

If you truly want to learn from the person you’re talking to, don’t corrupt their objectivity with a leading question. If you simply want someone to agree with you and don’t care to gain anything else from the conversation, then go for it (and you might as well stop reading this article).

Valuable: “What do you think would be the best way to handle this situation?”
Less valuable: “Don’t you think that this is what should be done?”

Ask open-ended questions.

This builds on the last tip in some ways. Asking a question, then following it with a list of multiple-choice answers, limits the response to what you’ve already decided could be the only correct answers. In most cases, it’s better not to ask yes or no questions either. Sometimes they are necessary, but if you are looking for more than that, make sure you ask the question in a way that forces elaboration.

Valuable: “Where is the best place to get pizza in Atlanta?”
Less valuable: “What is the best pizza place in Atlanta? Antico, Rocky Mountain, Fellini’s, or Rosa’s?”

Use questions to keep the conversation on course.

We’ve all been there. We’re in the middle of answering a question, when all of a sudden, we realize we don’t really remember what the question was. We all tend to wander. When someone you’re talking with meanders off the topic, interject with a more specific question to keep the conversation on track. You may feel rude interrupting, but if you do it respectfully and with genuine interest, the other person will likely be pleased that you have been listening so intently.

Valuable: “That’s interesting. Can you tell me more about the numbers you’re using specifically?”
Less valuable: “Sorry, can we get back on track? I want to know specifically about the figures involved.”

Confirm answers by reflecting them back.

When you get a vague or indirect answer, the best way to make sure you understand what was said is by repeating it back in the form of a question. You will then get the clarity that you’re looking for.

Example: “So you’re saying that your company has increased new business specifically by 27% this year?”

Be bold.

Sometimes we leave questions left unasked because we’re afraid of the answer or how our question will be received. But in the end, clarity and mutual understanding trumps temporary comfort. Ask the question.