The Art of Asking Questions

We’ve all been told to “ask and you shall receive.” The power of asking is that it enables others to understand your wants, needs, and desires so they can act accordingly. Because of this amazing power to deliver results, the art of asking questions is a key professional skill in the performance of all types of occupations.

In sales, the old adage is true: “Selling isn’t telling, asking is”. Professional salespeople use effective questions to find out what is important to the buyer, discover their unmet needs, and then fit their solution to those needs.

In management and leadership, the art of asking questions is as critical. It allows you to truly understand a situation before you prescribe a solution. It makes the person responding think and be prepared for a more thorough explanation. Effective leaders who master the art of asking questions can drive to the heart of the matter by clarifying the issue at hand. This process exposes answers given by rote, or methods that reflect “the way we always have done it around here,” and requires people to think about the reasoning behind the answers.

Effective problem solvers use questions to drive to the root cause of the situation. They simply ask “why” until the true issue emerges. This approach emulates what 4-year-olds do, asking “why” for every parental request or response. As any parent can tell you, asking multiple why’s requires thinking on the part of the respondent. It’s a valuable skill for getting beyond the pat superficial answers.

We are often asked, “Can a manager who has been trained in one functional area, be effective in another functional area?” If you are a manager who has little “expert” knowledge on the subject matter, the art of asking questions allows you to rapidly learn about your new functional area. It shows interest and curiosity that adds, rather than subtracts credibility. After all, the highly technical people already know what you don’t know; it’s not the time to fake it. Additionally, the nature of the questions you ask guides the people you manage in your new role to better understand your objectives and priorities.

Effective communicators are always asking questions to make sure that the message sent by them equals the message received by the listener. They make sure their instructions are understood and clear the first time they deliver them by allowing the listener to repeat back what they heard. This eliminates the time and costly repeating of directions and mistakes.

When it comes to effective leadership, just like on the game show Jeopardy, the answer lies in the questions.

Is the art of asking questions a crucial leadership skill? What do you think?

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