I’ve got a question for you.
Do you create the answers to your questions before you ask them?
Think about that for a moment. Because your answer may have major implications for your success.
On one hand, there is certainly value in asking the right question so that you can set up a real dialogue. A carefully crafted question can spark a shift in perspective or open the other person to a different point of view.
On the other hand, there is very little value in asking a question that is purely designed to make you look good/show that you already know the answer. These kinds of questions actually steal value.
They steal your ability to generate insight. These kinds of questions do not allow the possibility of information outside of what you already “know.” People who ask these kinds of questions are only setting themselves up to explore the obvious.
They steal your credibility as someone who can help. These kinds of questions do not position you as a trusted advisor. People who ask these kinds of questions will eventually be ignored.
They steal your influence on the conversation. These kinds of questions say you are not really listening, which is essential for two-way communication. People want to dialogue, not be set up for a lecture. People who ask these kinds of questions will find themselves unable to engage in a conversation beyond their initial pitch.
And that’s what you want, isn’t it? You want an authentic conversation, right?
As I’ve been writing this entire blog post, I have been acutely aware that every question I have asked – from the opening line to the previous paragraph – has been on the edge of tumbling into the realm of “I already know the answer.”
Look, I know very well the lure of getting someone’s attention. I can get sucked into that trap as quickly as a squirrel with ADD. It’s gratifying, exciting, and fuels a multi-billion (trillion?) dollar business. People want to be liked, shared, pinned, and basically given public recognition for even the smallest of efforts (“Look, here’s a selfie of me waiting in a line!”).
But in business, we need to define “success” differently. Our goal, especially if we consider ourselves responsible to help others, is to not be the center of attention. It’s to make the other person the center of attention. The customer/client/end user is the focus. Make them the hero of the story. Right?
So, here’s your mirror moment. Go back and read the last few emails where you were trying to persuade someone. Look at the last presentation you gave to a potential client. Read the communications you sent to a stakeholder in order to further your own point of view. Look at every time you were trying to shift someone else’s’ perspective.
How many times did you ask questions that you already knew the answer to?
Did your questions invite dialogue or did they simply prove your point?
How many times have you done this in the past 12 months?
If you don’t like your answers, come join me in the corner (and the comments section below) because even I forget this principle from time to time. The key is to increase our self-awareness that such a trap exists.
Questions are powerful. Asking the right questions to drive the right conversations is even more so.
I mua. Onward and upward.
By Tim Ohai