Classic questions Featured

5:34am EDT June 30, 2003
"Now that's a great question."

Every time I hear this, I smile. Why? Because a good question proves good listening, demonstrates critical thinking and uses humor to soften a pointed probe.

The best questions force your respondents to better understand their condition, reply with honesty and discover a truth they did not otherwise accept. While the best questions are specific to a discussion with a prospect, client, employee or vendor, some are applicable in any situation. Here are a few of my favorites.

"Tell me about a situation where you failed and what it taught you." If they say they have never failed, ask why they have set their goals so low.

"If you know it isn't working, why do you keep doing it?" The key is to break through resistance or conventional thinking and start changing the perception of reality.

"What is the one question you hope I don't ask?" Asked at the end of a discussion, this often reveals hidden agendas or information you may have missed.

"You are telling me this for a reason?" When confronted with highly emotional individuals, this coaxes from them the reasons they feel as they do.

"If you were going to tell me this, what would you say?" As ridiculous as this sounds, an uncooperative person may divulge confidential information if you let him or her speak after delivering this question with a straight face.

"What's your best and highest use?" While this is my trademarked, signature question, your version will provoke people to ask what you mean. Develop your own icebreaker to engage anyone in a more personal and revealing discussion.

Starting with Socrates and Plato, the art of questioning to gain knowledge, develop agreement and communicate expectations is critical to any of the leadership roles you play.

Good questioning comes with practice, maturity and business experience, but most of all through your growing confidence. As a business owner, learn to ask good questions.

As your questions become better, work on your timing, your ability to pause for an answer, and finally, on ways to control your environment in doing so. Andrew J. Birol is president of Birol Growth Consulting and co-founder of Independent Entrepreneur. He helps owners grow their businesses by understanding and targeting their best and highest use. Reach him at (440) 349-1970, by email at abirol@andybirol.com.