Friday, February 11, 2005

Ask Questions -improve your effectiveness

Asking questions smartly is effective. Action oriented questions yield results in the accountability quest. " Public organizations have nothing to hid or do they? "
Questions shine the light of transparency on them.

Source : Leeds Special from Bottom Line/PersonalPublished: September 15, 2001

Many people believe asking questions makes them look vulnerable... or stupid... or as if they are challenging authority. When they do ask questions, they elicit little information.

Here's how to use smart questioning to communicate more effectively, make better decisions and solve problems faster -- in your business and personal life.
Get employees and clients to persuade themselves. No one wants to be talked into anything. Rather than use a canned sales pitch or formal directive, pose questions that let the other person make your argument for you.
Example: A client converted his company's database to a complicated new software program. As often happens when new technology is introduced, everyone hated it. Rather than try to convince them to stick with it, however, he asked his staff, Would you like to go back to the old system? When they responded no, he asked Why not? Their answers highlighted all the advantages of the new system that they had overlooked because of the difficulties of the changeover.
Begin conversations with open-ended questions. Closed-ended questions yield short answers and reveal limited information. Open-ended questions encourage people to explain themselves thoughtfully. Examples...
Closed-ended: Do you want a domestic or imported car? Two- or four-door?
Open-ended: What kind of car are you looking for?
Begin questions with phrases such as describe, illustrate and walk me through. Such language stimulates clients or colleagues to think in interesting ways.
Example: Tell me what you like and don't like about the car you're driving now and how that will affect what you are going to buy.

Close deals with closed-ended questions. Many people become tentative when it is time to secure a sale or an agreement. Asking a closed-ended question can help you gauge if the prospect accepts the ideas you discussed.
Examples: Does what we've discussed make sense to you?... Have I addressed all of your concerns?

Follow up with questions that seek a definitive answer.
Examples: Is it a deal?... Can we agree on a contract now?

Let subordinates solve their own problems. Avoid simply giving them advice. Instead, use questions that probe the problem and its causes. That lets subordinates find their own answers. Examples...
Tell me what you have done to deal with the problem so far. How has that worked?
Tell me how your view would change if you were on the opposite side of this problem. Does that suggest any steps you might consider?
Have you ever dealt with a similar problem? What happened in that case?
Build meetings around answering questions. Meetings are the bane of contemporary business. That's because they are bogged down with mundane information. One person usually winds up doing most of the talking. To improve meetings...
Before the meeting, circulate a memo listing topics to be discussed. Ask participants to prepare questions that need to be answered.

Start the meeting with these prepared questions. Encourage participation from everyone.
During the meeting, ask more than you tell. Constantly spur discussions.
To test ideas: Suppose we did it this way -- what would happen?
To advance a discussion logically: What is the next step to ensure this proposal will be carried out?
To broaden a discussion: What other factors are important besides the ones already mentioned?
To bring out opinions and attitudes: How would you feel if you were confronted by this sudden change?
End the meeting with summary questions.
Examples: Did we answer the questions we set out to address? Have any new questions arisen as a result of this meeting? What are we going to do about them?

Use self-questioning to monitor your own work. The former CEO of pharmaceutical giant Warner-Lambert, Lodewijk J.R. de Vink, asks himself four questions as part of his daily mental regimen...
In the morning: Where do I want to be?... Am I on track to get there?
In the evening: What did I accomplish today?... What could I have done better?

Seek information from family members without being intrusive.
Discuss sensitive topics at a neutral time. That helps separate the problem from the emotions surrounding it. Asking questions when one or both of you are agitated almost always fails.
Watch your body language. If you take an aggressive posture -- standing over someone, hands on hips -- the other person is likely to clam up. Some of the most effective questioning takes place when people are not facing each other directly, such as in a car or while preparing dinner.
Disagree -- but with respect. Avoid being judgmental.
Example: If your teenager is doing poorly in school, you can question him/her about his study habits. But do not say, How can you be scared of tests? That's just stupid.
Leave wiggle room. People hate being told what to do -- even if they know you are right. Allow others the option of not accepting your advice. Do this by making "soft" suggestions.

Examples: Would you think about trying this way?... How would you feel if you did it my way this time?
Involve children in solving family problems. Criticizing kids or rendering judgment when there is a problem makes kids feel defensive.
Example: A client ran late every morning because her 10-year-old son was slow to get ready. Rather than yelling, she said, We need to talk about morning time and cooperation. I need your help here because what I'm doing is not working.
Then she asked...
What ideas do you have about reorganizing our morning routine? How about laying out your clothes the night before? What would you think about a five-minute warning before it's time to leave?
How do you think it makes my boss or your teacher feel when we're late?
Asking these questions helps your child empathize with what you are going through instead of just listening to you lecturing.

Avoid asking negative, unanswerable questions. It may help you vent frustration to ask, Why do you always do this to me? or How could you be so thoughtless? But it's almost impossible for a friend or family member to answer such questions.

Stick to action-oriented questions in which the other person can do something tangible to improve the situation.

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