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Five Reasons Why Asking Questions Is Good For Your Career

November 26, 2010

As our world continues to shift from a product economy to a knowledge economy, a slew of business books such as The Trusted Advisor, A Seat at the Table, and The Go-Giver are all spelling out the obvious: the best way of growing your business is through developing trusted relationships with real people, and finding ways to help them to succeed. Not by dragging the bag and peddling some dusty old product features.

One of the fundamental rules of this enlightened approach to selling is truly earth shattering: First ask questions, and then listen.

I know. That sounds really hard.

Instead of going in with an “all-about-my-stuff” pitch to the buyer, this new model says to walk in with nothing but a white sheet of paper, and start asking questions – about their business, their growth strategies, their worries, their performance drivers. Wouldn’t that be helpful in finding out what you can do to help them succeed?

The benefit of asking questions goes far beyond a selling situation. In fact, asking questions was very influential in my early career development.

I got my start in the management consulting field. When I was with a client and unsure about what I was supposed to do next, I would stall by asking questions. It worked wonders, because the person answering would become engrossed in the conversation, spill the beans about what was really going on, and before long would give me all the information I needed to develop the solution. All I did was ask.

Here are five reasons why asking questions can help you in any situation with your career:

1.  It makes you look smart.

That’s right, people who ask questions appear to be brighter than those who just sit there with a blank stare on their face. It could be because curiosity is associated with intelligence. Or it could be that those who are being asked simply project smartness back on to the questioner. Whatever. It’s a simple method to boost your presence in the organization, and you should milk it for all it’s worth.

2. People love to talk about themselves.

Well, duh. How did this one slip by us for so long? The truth is that there are precious few opportunities in a business setting where someone actually takes a focused interest in you. Usually it’s all about our output. So imagine one’s delight when suddenly a very interested party (You!) is sitting across the table asking probing questions. You must be sincere, of course, but once you start asking someone about themselves, watch out! The floodgates will open up. You’ll find out more than you ever wanted to know. The trick now is to keep it focused on the business at hand.

3. It leads to deeper insights.

Socrates invented a brilliant method of questioning, called – can you guess? The Socratic Method of Questioning. It simply involves asking a series of questions that eventually lead the listener to reach a conclusion on their own. It’s like peeling the onion to get the root of the issue, and then the startling insight is revealed. And people will buy into a conclusion they’ve reached themselves much faster than you trying to hard sell them through your know-it-all lectures and boring Power Point presentations. Plus you might learn something, too.

4. It shows that you are engaged.

Remember the mute guy with the blank stare in #1 above? Well, he may think he is engaged in the conversation up there in his own mind, but no one else knows about it. Your bosses, managers, and peers all want to know that you are thinking and interested in what’s going on at work. The only way they know that is if you are asking questions about whatever the topic is at hand. So pay attention. Do a little homework beforehand, if you really want to ask good questions.

5. It shows that you care.

No one cares how much you know until you show how much you care. Teddy Roosevelt said that. A worn-out and irrelevant cliche, yes, but it seemed to fit the topic. But really, asking questions will open you up to actually becoming interested in the people, the situation, and the issue being discussed. Even if you don’t feel like you care it at first, the questions can surprise you in getting there. And isn’t this what connecting our spiritual lives to business is all about? Caring about others?

So sit up straight, strap in and let the inquiries begin. Who knows how far it will take you? You may even make a few friends along the way.

Photo by PhotoXpress.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. November 27, 2010 12:21 am


  2. November 27, 2010 2:21 pm

    Brad. it’s funny, when leaders get promoted they are often told the reason for their elevation is superior intelligence and skill. And they act that way — they have the answers.

    But experience shows just the opposite. The best leaders are those that ask. “How can we do this better” is a powerful question that always produces fantastic replies.

    When you say, “here’s what we’re going to do,” it’s met with resistance and is generally doomed, short of a strong fist of compliance.

    I had a senior manager once who visited all 10,000 people in his district. On his visits, he regularly asked, “what do you do ? ” and then followed it up with “show me how”.

    That guy was brilliant and we were all devoted to his vision. He cared. He was genuine. He was a leader.

  3. November 28, 2010 11:27 pm

    Yep, a good reminder of the obvious but overlooked. We feel like we need to always have the answers and often skip the questions.

    And people do love to talk about themselves, don’t they? We’ve all been sitting in the meeting where someone won’t shut up, and everyone is thinking the same thing (why doesn’t this guy shut up and listen) but no one will say the obvious. I never want to be that guy.

  4. November 29, 2010 5:18 pm

    This is good. I know you’ve written this from the management perspective, but I wonder if it wouldn’t play well for those of us who report to managers. It’s time for annual reviews at the company where I work, and I can’t help thinking that I could use these tips in that meeting. Not so much to make myself look smarter (although I wouldn’t be opposed to that), but to find out more about my manager, her goals, and to discover more places I can step up to the plate.

  5. November 30, 2010 12:12 am

    very innnnteresting 🙂

  6. November 30, 2010 9:48 am

    Bradley you have just described my job as a coach. Many small business owners don’t have anyone to listen to them or to bounce ideas off of. I was so nervous when I started out because I thought we were expected to know it all from minute one of meeting a new client. Many times they just need a collaborator in which to discuss their business. After many questions and genuine interest, the solutions and ideas take shape for us both.

    In other settings of leadership I am still amazed when people will not seek information and knowledge. There is still so much to learn from others by just asking!

    Great post.

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