In today’s fast-paced and competitive world, we are always rushing to find an answer. But that leads me to think: What makes a great question? After wrapping up three seasons of my podcast, people have asked me: How do you know how to ask the right questions and keep the flow going?
Well, it’s hard for me to truly break that down as I try to let the creative side of my brain take over and just go with the flow. When you begin, you may have a more technical breakdown of questions, but in all honesty that can become problematic, as you never know where the conversation is going to go, which is a good thing. A lot of times, the sense of urgency that is coupled with seeking solutions can cause us to overlook the power of asking the right questions. A lot of this is accomplished through listening and taking a moment.
Keep reading to discover how you can break the process down, ask the right questions in meetings and maybe even lead to hosting an award-winning podcast.
One of the most common types of questions we ask in conversations is polar. These questions are typically closed, meaning they invite a one-word answer. Questions like “What is your name?” or “Would you like tea or coffee?” are polar questions. Although they only invite a one-word response, polar questions can be useful for breaking the ice with someone new. You can also build off of polar questions with more questions, leading you into a great conversation.
Just like with all the question types that we will discuss, there is an ideal setting for when to ask polar questions. Because they are typically easy to answer, beginning your meetings with a polar question can be a great way to get your team warmed up and ready for some in-depth discussions. They are also great to ask when you need a quick answer.
Asking clarifying questions can help us to better understand what someone said. It is common for people to rush through conversations and misinterpret the meaning of what is being said. In those cases, asking clarifying questions can help you uncover the true intent behind someone’s words. As humans, we tend to overlook the power of asking clarifying questions. Instead, we will fill in the blanks and make assumptions about what the other person means. However, this leaves room for misunderstandings and confusion, which can mislead you on the path to achieving your goals. That’s why clarifying questions are so important.
To introduce these, you can start by asking things like, “Can you tell me more?” or “What do you mean by that?” Doing this can help enrich your conversations and fast-track you on the route to your goals.
Adjoining questions are another great way to expand the depth of your conversations. These questions can be used to bring attention to related topics or potential problems that are being ignored in the conversation. It is natural for us to focus only on immediate tasks so that we can provide solutions quickly. However, expanding your conversations by asking exploratory questions can help you and your team derive solutions that will be useful throughout a broadened range of contexts.
To practice coming up with great adjoining questions, begin by asking yourself how a particular concept or solution can be applied in a different context. For example, asking a question such as, “How would this concept impact our market in the U.K.?” can open up a broadened discussion on the behavioral differences between consumers in the U.S. and the U.K. that you may not have otherwise considered.
Elevating questions help us zoom out of the immediate context so we can see the bigger picture. When we are too immersed in the issue at hand, it becomes more difficult to identify the root causes of the case and the context behind it. That’s why asking questions that encourage us to take a step back and approach the problem with a new lens can be helpful. With a simple introduction, you can enhance a standard performance review into a broader conversation on helpful ways your team can enhance performance altogether.
Knowing how to ask the right elevating questions during a discussion can help make you a vital asset to your team. Next time you are in a meeting with your co-workers, try to raise issues by asking elevating questions such as, “How does this tie into larger trends that we should be concerned about?” or “When you take a step back, does this problem reveal any larger issues?” If you ask these questions at the right times, you will be amazed at the informative and useful conversations that can present themselves.
If you would like to dive deeper into a topic, asking funneling questions is a great place to start. These can help you better understand the process behind an answer or solution. Familiarizing yourself with the method that led to a particular solution can help you pinpoint any assumptions that were made along the way. Funneling questions are useful because they open up the context of the conversation to a deeper analysis.
Some of the most useful funneling questions involve asking things like, “How did you complete this step of the process?” or “Why did you choose not to include notes on that step?” However, the more detailed the better. Once you have these ideas in place, things will start to become more natural. The nice thing about this is you can practice this anywhere and organically start up conversations throughout the day. Some of the best projects I’ve produced have come out of a friendly conversation. Just asking if a horror writer had a script in the family genre — we ended up going into pre-production two weeks later on that movie.
I always say that keeping these ideas in mind and staying free is the best way to be. Interviews and meetings can take on interesting twists and turns. Be flexible and open to discussions that come up — and maybe start that podcast you’ve been talking about.