When you present any type of information, your ability to ask powerful questions will determine the speed and degree of your success.
This is not another teaching on the importance of Open vs. Closed questions. This is about selecting wording that will transform your questions from being weak, to being powerful and action provoking.
Your questions should follow four simple guidelines and be:
- “You”-focused to make it personal to the listener
- Short – less than 15 words, shorter is better
- Limited to a single thought
- Specific, Concrete, and Assumptive
Let’s take a look at some weak questions, and how to make them powerful.
What will happen if you lose 20 pounds?
- Not “you”-focused
- Not specific in terms of what you are asking
- The use of “if” frames the entire question as hypothetical and can trigger reactions like, “But I don’t think I can.”
- Lack of a timeframe leaves the question too vague.
Overall there is little emotional power to this question.
How will your life be better when you lose 20 pounds by December?
- You are now asking about specific benefits to the listener.
- The “if” has been replaced with when, putting the listener into the mindset that it is already happening.
- The addition of a timeframe makes the question more tangible and relatable.
This form of the question will trigger a more emotional response that will result in more action.
When you carefully evaluate the questions you ask, you begin to make the minor adjustments required to add significant power to your communications. One indicator that can help identify weak questions is to track how many questions you are currently asking to get to the desired information.
For example, if you are trying to help a client understand the importance of investment diversity, you might ask:
What will happen if the stock market drops 10 percent?
- Not “you” -focused, specific, assumptive, or time bound
- If your intent is to get the listener considering the impact to their own savings, you may have to ask at least one or two more questions to get to the desired answer.
What will happen to your savings when the stock market drops 10 percent next week?
- You are now asking a specific “you”-focused question regarding their belief of what will happen to their individual savings, resulting in you gaining specific information more quickly.
- Changing the frame of the question from “if” to “when” creates a mental framework of “this is going to happen.”
- Adding the “next week” time frame constrains the question to increase focus on the answer.
- This version of your question keeps the listener focused and will lead directly to an answer.
Minor wording adjustments can also help you avoid questions that can be perceived as accusatory, condescending, and demanding.
For example, in a management situation where a staff member is not following a prescribed process:
Why aren’t you doing what I recommended?
- While the question is “you”-focused and direct it is unlikely to be received well.
What is keeping you from using the process we discussed?
- The question remains “you”-focused but takes the approach of wanting to understand the real reason versus an excuse.
- By softening and directing the question the listener is less likely to become defensive.
When you need to communicate effectively every word counts. Taking the time to review your wording will have a significant impact on your success.
Speak with power or be forgotten.