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Asking Good Questions



March 28, 2017

It’s a smart, simple and preventative action that gets you safely and efficiently headed in the direction you need to go.

Professionally, it equips you with essential information, shows project stakeholders your interest and investment in their projects and is the first step in opening a collaborative communication line. While we all know that “the only bad question is the one you don’t ask,” I’ve found the three principles below make questioning a favorite and profoundly efficient tool for building and growing business relationships and completing successful projects.

1. Good Questions Prompt a Thoughtful Response

Make sure that your questions are open-ended enough to challenge the respondent to think. Silence is encouraged. My rule of thumb: If the question could be answered with a simple “yes” or “no,” take a step back and rephrase it to get the maximum amount of information while learning something new.

Applicable Examples of Useful Questions:

  • Planning a Project:
    What is the best way to move forward? How do you define project success?
  • Determining Brand Strategy:
    What feelings should your brand evoke? What are some key differentiators?
  • Asking for Feedback:
    What about this do you like? What about this do you think could be stronger?

2. Good Questions Confirm or Challenge What You Think You Know

A surefire way to set yourself up for failure is to work based on an assumption. Whether it’s an assumption about your audience or about project roles and responsibilities, assumptions can lead you astray. It is always worth it to put in the time and effort it takes to align, confirm and then move forward.

Applicable Examples of Useful Questions:

  • Planning a Project:
    What is your ideal pass-off date? Can you confirm that X-person will be taking care of Y-task?
  • Determining Brand Strategy:
    How did you come to decide on this target audience? Would you identify your competitors as A, B, C?

3. Good Questions Are Asked at the Right Time

An important conclusion to these principles is the timing surrounding them. We’ve all been in meetings where a courtesy “any questions?” inquiry derails progress and prolongs conversations beyond the allotted discussion time. To avoid this, come prepared with the right questions specific to that meeting and direct them at the right person. Get to know the attendees, look for body language that might tell you if someone is confused and know when to be straightforward and bookmark items that can wait for another meeting (or an email).

I encourage you to harness your inquisitive mind when forming good questions — groom your words to become the tools that set you apart and set you up for success. Really, all you have to do is ask.

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