So, what WAS your question?…
Have you ever witnessed a person use 1000 words to ask a question that only needed 20?
I have and it drives me nuts!
Usually, the question is framed with some kind of a story… “my mother’s father’s sister’s uncle’s dog once had …” and then they wander into a multi directional question, that really didn’t need the story to explain it.
By the time they actually get to the question part of their question… they have lost everyone, including themselves. (It’s funny to watch that moment when the person realizes… they forgot what they were asking about.)
Sometimes they talk for so long that the person they’re asking needs to ask their own question… “So what was your question?”
Now I don’t know about you, but the people who ask questions this way… have taught me a lot (Were you expecting a different response?)
In fact, they’ve taught me how to ask a quick, clear and concise question.
The art of Considered Question Asking is locked deep within my DNA and I’m grateful to these people.
When I was at University, many of my class mates were fans of the prolonged question. Their questions just went on and on. But by the time they got their answer though, they seemed to be disappointed or annoyed.
And the reason for their disappointment was… they took so much time to ask the question, that they didn’t give the person any time to answer it.
It was such a shame to go to all that effort and not get the answer they wanted.
But there was something else going on for these people. They had another agenda.
You see, some people ask a question to get an answer… whereas others ask a question to get attention.
Now, I know that sounds blunt, but it’s true.
The people I went to University with, usually asked questions to get attention. Often they already “knew” the answer… they just wanted people to notice how clever they were.
That’s why they’d put so much personal detail into the question asking. It made them sound special and stand out from the crowd.
But often this tactic backfired on them! People would roll their eyes as soon as they saw the “Repeat Offender Question Extender” raise their hand or ask a question. The collective groan was at times a little too audible… but the questioner was usually too self-absorbed to even notice.
I did notice though… and the answers they got, if the person had time to answer them, had no real depth or wisdom.
But occasionally, another student would ask a question… and they’d get a very different kind of answer.
And the reason was Knowledge Nugget #104…
The Quality Of Your Question Determines
…The Quality Of The Answer!
The fact is, people are busy and only have limited time to answer questions.
When I was learning to be an alternate healing teacher, my teacher was constantly bombarded with people who wanted to ask her specific questions. Most of the time, she’d get the extended version… and she’d politely tell them to give her the condensed version.
Some people got upset about having to speed up their question, but our teacher was simply trying to answer as many questions as she could in the time she had “spare.” (And so she could go to the bathroom before the next class started. People seemed to forget she was human and needed a break too. It didn’t take her long to set some better boundaries so she could have a break… question free.)
Anyway, I’d watch all the people hustle to get their questions answered… always listening to know what they asked and then hear what the answer was (You’d be surprised to know how many people don’t listen to the answers of other people’s questions. For some reason they don’t think it’s relevant to them). That way, I’d know what to ask when it was my turn and not waste her time by repeating a question.
You see, nothing annoys busy people more than being asked the same question… again and again! (I know this from experience).
When it was finally my turn to ask my questions, I’d be clear, quick and concise. I’d make sure I gave enough context for the question… then I’d shut up and listen to the answer.
I would take in the answer and I would never argue or try to impose my interpretation on her… unless she asked me what I thought. (Now, this is not because I think I’m inferior to her etc. … it’s basically because she had more experience and wisdom than me, and if I already knew the answer… I wouldn’t have asked in the first place.)
It didn’t take long for her to notice the difference in the way I asked questions… and she’d often say to me “I’ll give you 5 minutes!” or “Walk with me.” In those few precious moments, we’d have entire conversations and she’d answer pretty much all of my questions. (This helped me to be a much better teacher for my students.)
Other people were astonished at how much information I’d get from her. They thought I’d spent hours with her. But we mostly had our little 5 minute interactions… it was just that I was wise with the way I used our time together. So how was I different to everyone else?
Well, when I asked questions, I’d often lead with the one thing I really needed to know from her. That way, if we were interrupted (which happened frequently)… I had my answer and was happy with that. Anything else was a bonus.
My questions never had fluff or filler. And at the same time, they weren’t cold or impersonal either. I’d quickly establish rapport and ask my question in an empathetic and conversational way.
And I practiced Active Listening.
Another thing I never did was to repeat a question… because I’d listen to the questions (and answers) before me.
What I’ve found is, asking the right question, the right way will give you much deeper answers.
So, does this work all the time?
Of course not.
Humans are funny creatures. Some people, no matter how articulate you are when you ask a question, are rude, evasive or full of ego.
I’ve seen this happen at seminars. One man stood in line for ages to ask a “guru” he admired a question. His question was articulate and relevant… but the “guru” shot him down and basically called him stupid. There was no way I was going to ask him a question!
In situations like that, read their book and get your answer there. Spare yourself the ego blast!
I can assure you though, this technique of asking questions usually gets better answers than the rambling way. Clear, quick and concise questions will open door ways to the information you wouldn’t normally have access to.
My mentor Parris says… “Say what you mean, and mean what you say!” and I agree with him.
Until next week… take care and ask great questions : )
a.k.a. “The Copy Alchemist”
P.S. Rae used to ask long winded questions until I helped her to trim them down. She’d get disappointed that they wouldn’t give her the answer she wanted. So I coached her to be quick, clear and concise when she asked questions.
When she learned the skill of Considered Question Asking, everything changed for her. People listened to her and best of all, they answered her questions.
P.P.S. Life is full of spectacular surprises. Rae has just given me an amazing opportunity to help me promote a project I have been sitting on for a few years. So for the rest of this week… I’ll be concentrating on this one project to get it completed. I won’t be doing any client work until it’s done It’s quite exciting and I’ll be able to share it with you in a week or two.
P.P.P.S. The skill of asking great questions is invaluable. And another part of the technique is knowing that there’s a time and place to ask your question. I’m often dumbfounded when I hear about people following a speaker to the bathroom so they can ask them a question. Surely that’s not the best time to be asking people questions. Timing is everything!