What are the best questions to ask people? Of course on the surface, this is dependent on with whom you are speaking and the intent of the conversation. Is it business or social? Is it casual or professional? These and other questions are part of the mix.
But there is another level of determining what questions to ask in any situation. Let’s dig a little deeper here and see what develops. It all begins with listening.
The Art of Listening
It is impossible to ask the best questions that are not only meaningful and relevant, but that provide the most benefit without active listening. When listening in this fashion we are totally engaged with our friend or client because we sincerely desire to learn more about this person so that we can provide the best friendship and/or service.
While listening attentively, we are able to show our interest and focus by reflecting back on what is being said by paraphrasing the conversation. This allows us to verify what we heard is actually what was meant to avoid any misunderstanding. There is no judgment or advice given, just verifying that what was said is understood.
This is establishing trust and creating a bond as when the other person knows they are really being heard they feel valued and important. They feel that their time is being well spent. This creates the foundation of not only a successful conversation but a long-term relationship as well.
All it takes to be an active listener is to be sincerely interested in what is being said because you appreciate and value that the person has taken the time to share with you. Periods of silence are patiently experienced as verbal and nonverbal feedback is congruent with the conversation.
We have created the ideal atmosphere and environment to ask good questions. You have shown your support and empathy to the person and now they are most happy and willing to fully engage with you. Active listening benefits in all areas of our lives whether social, family, or business,
Let’s finish up here with active listening with a few suggestions. Keep good eye contact, don’t change the subject when the other person is in the flow, be open to new ideas, quiet your internal chatter the best you can, stay alert for nonverbal cues, ask questions to clarify points, and don’t interrupt the person. These are all common sense things to do, but it is good to remind ourselves of them often, as it is all so easy to forget and get caught up in our own stuff.
Now for Some Good, Great, and Even Best Questions to Ask
Regardless if we are speaking to someone or having an internal dialogue with ourselves, the answer lies in the quality of the question that we ask. By asking effective questions the solution naturally appears. Not always immediately, but the stage has been set for it to arrive.
Most of us have never learned the true importance of asking good questions. People who have trained as lawyers, doctors, or journalists have a heads up in this regard, as it is an important aspect of their profession. At the same time, this is a valuable skill that can be learned and successfully applied by anyone.
In addition to building trust and rapport, good questions increase performance, foresee avoidable risks, ignite innovation, increase learning, and inspire the exchange of insights and ideas. It is quite a powerful tool indeed.
For people that are naturally inquisitive, this comes quite easy to do. They are able to easily relate to others and connect on an emotional level that reveals their true interest in what is being said. Others find it more challenging, but with a little preparation and practice, this skill is able to be learned and applied efficiently and effectively.
Forming the “Good Question” Habit
As it has been said about repetition being the mother of invention or all learning (an ancient Latin phrase), it can be used to acquire any skill we desire. Practice does make perfect when we are practicing the right stuff. Just by asking more “good” questions, we have begun the process of improvement in this area.
Over time, we are able to increase our emotional intelligence that translates into asking better questions. It’s all in how we frame the questions that increase the probability that the answers we get are meaningful and valid. By doing this we are asking questions that the other person actually wants to answer. This also goes back to the foundation of trust we have already established through active listening.
Studies have been done over the years that have found that most people do not ask enough questions. This is mainly because we are more interested in singing our own praises to impress others, rather than taking an interest in others so they are genuinely impressed by our sincerity and authenticity.
Other people may be overconfident in what they know or think they know, may be a bit apathetic, or are worried about asking the wrong question and offending someone. But whatever the reason, they do not grasp the importance of good questions and the benefits that can be gained.
Questions are used either to gain some information or learn something or to make some sort of impression in the relationship. Regardless of the intent, we can form a habit of asking good questions by the mere act of doing so.
The Best Questions to Ask People
Okay, now let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of it all. In a general sense the best questions to ask people or ourselves are ones that contain the answer within the question itself. The question is so precise and well-thought-out that it generates the answer over time and sometimes immediately. In any event, it puts us on the Right Path to Discovery.
“We get wise by asking questions, and even if these are not answered, we get wise, for a well-packed question carries its answer on its back as a snail carries its shell.” — James Stephens —
When we are on the right path or headed in the right direction, we can rest assured the rights answers will be revealed, as each step we take reveals more to us. The answers may hit us in the head and be revealed all at once, or sometimes they may come in bits and pieces. Regardless of its entry point, it is on its way.
The best questions to ask are the ones that benefit the person of whom we are asking, as well as getting us needed information. For example, in job interviews rather than going on about our qualifications and the good stuff we have done, questions directed to the interviewer concerning the organization, details of the job, and the future plans and strategies of the company will keep the interviewer more engaged and view the interviewee more favorable so that they can both determine if this is the right job for the person. It becomes a collaborative effort.
That type of questioning builds rapport, provides more essential information needed to make a good decision, and exhibits more competence than only emphasizing what is showing up on the resume. An understanding of how good questions provide increased trust and bonding that leads to vital learning information enables people to attain their desired results on a more consistent basis.
It’s important to find the right mix of questions without asking too little or too many. Also, the tone, sequence, type, and framing are also important ingredients. But above all else, sincerity counts the most. When actively engaged in listening because you really want to learn, you will discover the right questions to ask. In the previous interview example, it is wise to prepare your questions ahead of time and be clear on what is an ideal answer.
The best questions to ask are also determined by the goals that you have; whether they are competitive, cooperative, or a combination. Whether your intent is to uncover sensitive information or to build a relationship, the strategies are much the same but just framed a little differently.
You always want to ask follow-up questions which not only shows you have been listening, but they are able to extract more essential information and increase trust and respect. These types of questions naturally flow from the conversation itself. Also, you can minimize the impact of sensitive questions by getting the sequence correct and keeping the question open-ended (avoid the yes or no question) by inviting a response. This can be a delicate balance to get right.
When asking tough questions it’s important to use the right tone. More casual always works best. Also, give people an out if they need it. Being overly formal usually inhibits people from opening up and sharing. Brainstorming works well because it is okay to change your mind without being judged.
Authenticity is the Key
In this article, I gave a few ideas on how to ask the best questions in order to get desired results and the solutions for which you are looking. With a little practice, improvement is ensured.
In finishing up here, I would like to stress the importance of grasping the technical points, but then applying them in a natural and authentic way. Even if you did not use any of these suggestions but were perceived as sincere and authentic, you would make tremendous progress.
If you have no other qualities but authenticity you will do just fine. Without it you can have all the knowledge and skills in the world and still not succeed. Make authenticity your greatest tool and attribute and all with whom you interact will be defenseless against its force, including yourselves.
The best question is a good question that contains the desired answer within it.
I look forward that you discover the best questions to ask people are within your “heart”. It is only a matter of time and practice that you will confidently ask great questions and receive the answers most beneficial to all.
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