5 Ways to Ask Better Questions

Someone once told me that you’ll accomplish more by asking the right questions than having the right answers. Wait… what? It sounds counterintuitive, doesn’t it? So I thought about it. It’s true that nobody has all the answers; and many times when you think you have the right answer, you find you’re wrong, or there was more than one right answer.

On the other hand, questions can be very valuable. If you are asking the right questions, it means you are thinking deeply about the situation or problem. It means you are trying to get the most information and the best perspectives in order to come up with the best solution. Best of all, by asking questions, you solicit at least one other perspective (if you think you have the answers, the only perspective you end up with is your own.)

After I made sense of this old axiom, I’ve spent some time coming up with ways that I can ask better questions. And as always, I am going to share them here with you.

5 Ways to Ask Better Questions

  1. Think about the situation from another perspective. If you’re making a decision that impacts a client, employee, vendor, community, etc., ask the questions they would ask if they were in the room.
  2. Ask questions from the future. Think about questions you would have in the future IF something were to happen – if a policy, price change, etc. were actually implemented. This makes your questions relevant well beyond the current situation. For example – you want to open a new location. One of your questions might be – “6 months after we open the new location, what does success look like for that new location?”
  3. Think like an outsider. Once again, this is changing your perspective. The truth is – you are too close to your business. It’s very likely that you spend time speaking with people who are only in your industry. Change your perspective and consider how much your other stakeholders, like clients, might not know. If you ask questions that assume you have little to no industry knowledge, you’ll provide a fresh new perspective to the conversation.
  4. Ask “the other guys.” This is another way of gaining a different perspective. When you sit in a presentation, ask questions of the individuals who were involved in the project but not giving the presentation. These individuals are often in different roles and can give you a different perspective.
  5. Ask the questions you don’t want to ask. This is the tough one… and the most important. The questions you don’t want to ask are the ones you feel may reveal your ignorance on a topic, or may reveal answers that you won’t want to hear. These types of questions are the questions that often go unsaid in discussions, but they can end up being the most important questions.

When it comes right down to it, you can’t ever arrive at the right answers without asking the right questions first. So practice asking the right questions. Even at those times when you are sure you know the answer. Ask a couple questions from a different perspective and see what happens. You may be surprised. And if you’ve mastered good question asking, consider a question I recently blogged about – “Do people act rationally?

Stop by my office sometime and we can talk business. I don’t have all the answers, but I have a few good questions that will probably help you get closer to the answers.