The Power of One Great Question

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The Power of One Great Question

One great question can elicit useful answers, move a relationship to a higher plane, or propel a business solution. The following tips can make you a more strategic communicator and get you noticed for your thought leadership.

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  • Ask open-ended questions that stimulate thinking. Typically, these types of questions begin with “How” or “What do you think about…”  Note: too many “why” questions can make one sound confrontational.
  • Ask for the individual’s own ideas. This empowers the  person and makes him/her feel valued
  • Ask Interpretive Questions; “ what do you think about…?”
  • Dig Deeper. Instead of asking a leading question (“You think that was the best decision, don’t you?”), ask a deeper question, “Why do you think that?”
  • Start with what you understand, followed by what remains unclear. “I understand that we’re in a risky economy, but I think I missed why we’re responding this way. What’s our most effective plan?”
  • Don’t ask either/or questions. Instead of asking, “Would you approach the issue by ___ or by______?”, try “How would you approach the need for environmental re-engineering?”
  • Ask broad questions then narrow down to specifics. Ask Objective Questions to get specific info. “What evidence did she have about the incident?” or “What factors are necessary to raise your likelihood of making a decision by Tuesday?”
  • If asking a closed question to get a specific answer, and the individual answers differently than you would have expected or wanted, ask why he/she chose or said that.
  • Be specific in the phrasing and framing of your question.
  • Ask a question that will specifically pinpoint the information you need. Instead of, “Can you gather information about the XYZ project and tell me about it?”, ask “How did the XYZ project get to completion on time and under budget?”
  • Ask Problem-Solving Questions to elicit action or action ideas. “What are the next steps?” “How would you implement the steps we discussed?”

Below are some thoughtful questions for conversations:

“What has motivated you to do ________?”

“What is the most important insight about _____________?”

“What went well?”

“What could we improve?

About the Author:

Ellen Dunnigan founded Accent On Business in 2001 specializing in public speaking, communication skills, and executive presence for leaders in business. She has 25 years of experience with professional and nonprofessional speakers in healthcare, media, politics, engineering, sports, and other industries. Ellen’s coaching in speaking skills gives established and emerging leaders greater confidence and credibility. Her leadership programs in accountability, alignment, difficult conversations, and organizational communication have helped leaders expand their influence. Ellen is known for her practical “how to” style.
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