All of us have an interest in building personal, professional and business relationships.
How is a relationship built? Initially by starting and following a good conversation. Asking the right questions in a conversation is one of its essential elements, helping to build and deepen the relationship between interlocutors.
But how simple is it to ask questions?
Many people think it is very simple. For example, you may think it is enough to ask the other one “how are you?” and here’s a question done. I thought the same too, before deepening my knowledge in social sciences on training and mentoring.
Do you know that most people ask just to ask and without having a purpose to get an answer?
We often ask “how are you” and do not hear the answer that comes from the other side of the phone line or from in front of the table where we are conducting a conversation. Because people, especially nowadays, are focused on themselves, along with problems, desires, goals, tasks to be fulfilled and much more. So the beginning and the end of our thoughts are only on ourselves! Therefore, the attention we show to the answers we receive after asking questions is almost non-existent. Today’s questions are no longer genuine questions other than the need to be present in a conversation by asking about something or someone.
How can we ask beautiful questions that help us build the relationship?
First, before we ask, we must know how to listen, to listen actively, focused and ready to be put in the position of the other depending on what the other person is telling us, to listen with “all our senses, showing interest, naive curiosity and desire to be part of the conversation.
A good way to ask questions is to apply the so-called “Open Questions”.
Open-ended questions are those that begin with What, How, Why, Who, When and Where.
Open-ended questions encourage the interlocutor to talk as much as possible, thinking more, elaborating ideas, analyzing, visualizing thoughts, and thus giving the other person as much information as possible thus opening new bridges of communication and knowledge. Consider, for example, an open-ended question from a credit analyst during a visit to his client’s business.
“What are your plans for the near future in business and family?”
“In September my son leaves for university in London, while here in business I plan to expand the silos by buying another piece of land next to the current premises.”
This information gives the credit analyst a spark for some other banking products that the client may need such as a prepaid card for his son in order to have as much control over his expenses and a potential loan for the purchase of land adjacent to the environment.
Information is power. The way to get, is a skill, that can be learned and improved with time.
You have to know how to trustfully get an information, beautifully and without looking invasive.
Second, in addition to open-ended questions we should avoid asking suggestive or rhetorical questions. These kinds of questions are like “How bad would your boss think of you if you took this action you are describing now”?
In this way we suggest what we expect to happen in the future, suggesting to the other person that this action is wrong, that your action will look bad in front of boss’ eyes.
Whether something is wrong or not is up to the other person to decide, if the issue on the table is something that belongs to him. IF during the conversation, we use suggestive or leading questions we may tighten the conversation and also the relationship with the other one. People want to feel free and comfortable during conversation, without having the feeling that they are saying or doing something wrong or inappropriate. Thus, better ask questions that leaves the other the possibility to express himself freely, feeling unjudged. If he will want an advice from our side, we will ask for that. But other than that, better not use leading and suggesting questions.
Third, our questions should not contain unilateral assumptions. Assumptions always remain assumptions. It is better to ask someone who shows natural curiosity than to ask by deducting the answer in advance with the idea that we know how the other will respond. For example, if we are discussing with a friend two different options that he/she has in front of them, a question such as “Does the first option seems appropriate to you, justify?” is more of a guesswork answer than a question.
Questions have tremendous power.
Try to replace all the questions you ask that start with “will you, have you, do you ” with other questions that start with “what are you going to do, where are you going, how can you do it” , and you will see what huge effect this will have on your conversations!
Believe me, a whole world of information opens up when the magic words “What, How, Why, Who, When and Where” are used in your conversations!
“I keep six honest serving-men,
They taught me all I knew;
Their names are What and Why and When,
And How and Where and Who.”