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The power of asking the right questions.

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“The wise man doesn’t give the right answers; he poses the right questions.”

— CLAUDE LEVI-STRAUSS

Asking the right questions is one of the most impactful things you can do in your business. While some people find this easier to do than others, the art of asking powerful questions is a daily discipline that involves constantly honing our ability to ask better questions. In today’s post, we’ll dive into ways you can hone the skill of asking powerful questions in your business, then later provide a real-world example of a powerful question that helped one of our clients reshape their business for future growth.

 

The art of asking the right questions is an old concept.

 

Socrates and other greek philosophers approached questioning as a practice based on disciplined and thoughtful dialogue, seeking out meaning and truth. This method of questioning can be used to explore complex ideas, discover issues and problems, analyze concepts, and a myriad of other purposes. It is the basis of modern critical thinking and has a place in your business strategy.

 

Questions unlock value

 

Questioning is a powerful tool in the workplace that encourages learning, exchanging ideas, fueling innovation and performance improvement, building rapport and trust among team members, and mitigating business risk. Benefits can also come on a personal level; asking questions can improve our emotional intelligence, which in turn makes us better questioners and more effective communicators. Asking many questions can help you learn, establish a sense of bonding with others and become more confident.

 

Follow-up questions dig deeper

 

Follow-up questions demonstrate that you are interested in what the other person is saying and want to learn more. People will feel respected and heard by a partner who asks follow-up questions. Another benefit is that they can help you identify additional aspects to look for, which can make a difference in getting to the root cause of an issue.

 

Key steps to ask follow-up questions:

  • Listen carefully to the answers given to follow-up questions, as they often provide new information or insights.

  • Do not be satisfied with vague answers to your follow-up questions.

  • Participate in a way that furthers the goals of the conversation.

Open-ended vs Closed Questions

 

Question types fall into two major categories: open-ended and closed. Open-ended questions are those that require long answers and can’t be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” Asking open-ended questions can help you get useful information from your staff when you need it most. Open-ended questions allow people to elaborate on their answers, offering opinions and experiences that can yield benefits. Open-ended questions are the best way to get people talking, but they’re not always appropriate. Knowing when to use a closed question will help you gather more accurate answers and avoid bias or manipulation. Closed questions can be useful when asking someone about something sensitive such as how a coworker or work policy negatively impacts them. Closed questions can also be broken down into several subcategories, including broad or specific, and general or specific. Knowing when to use each question type will improve your ability to ask better questions.

 

The right question can come from others

 

Don’t be afraid to bring others to the table. The willingness to answer & ask questions is affected by the presence of others, and members of a group tend to follow one another’s lead. If the cycle of question-to-response continues to dig deeper into the core issue within a group, it can achieve meaningful insight. By reaching out beyond a siloed group to connect with perspectives from a broader set of more diverse sources, you’ll be able to learn faster.

“Its most powerful principle (Socratic method) is that thoughtful questions disrupt our normal and mostly unconscious patterns of thinking. They (thoughtful questions) are the first intervention in implementing change”

— GERALD NADLER

A real-world application

 

Companies need to ask questions that help them see the situation differently. A real-world example of this comes from one of our accounting service clients, which was experiencing an operation bottleneck while attempting to increase its client base. It struggled to maintain a high level of service to its clients and needed to conduct an unmanageable amount of manual tasks and processes for every client project. If it wished to grow, it had to do so with a drastic increase in personnel.

 

During the roundtable discussion, our CEO asked the question that was the catalyst of their change:

 

How do we use automation in our businesses to maximize the number of people we have and grow without having to hire?

 

This thoughtful question started the client down a path that led to a complete rework of their day-to-day workflow, allowing them to expand their services and removing the need for manual intervention on tasks that could be systemized. Adding a document management solution to the operational framework allowed them to replicate the process for new clients, making onboarding simplified and efficient. This optimization led to a 4x ROI within the first year of project implementation.

 

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