Ask More Questions to Achieve Business Growth

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Dan Arens is an Indiana-based business growth advisor. Dan Arens is an Indiana-based business growth advisor.

As a businessperson, as much as you would like to, you don't need to know all the answers. You do need to be able to ask all the right questions. Many business people see asking the right questions as a central part of their job, especially those in leadership positions. Questioning is a skill that can not only be developed but needs to be continually refined.

Asking the right questions can be a very powerful tool to add to the growth arsenal of your business. It is part of the learning process. It helps in the exchange of ideas. It enhances creativity, improves performance, and increases trust among the participants. While many people view the art of asking questions as just that of an exchange of information, it goes way beyond that basic purpose.

In most businesses, each work day is spent obtaining information such as checking on the status of a project, receiving an update on an order, or even interviewing someone for a job with the company. Many people don’t realize there really is a way you can improve upon how you ask a particular question. Many people need to understand asking more questions not only helps them learn more, it helps to improve the relationship between the person who asks the questions and the one who answers it. The first and easiest step in the process is simply committing to asking more questions in any conversation. It truly is that simple an approach, but the results can be profound. That is when the conversation can take a more positive turn.

In a recent article for the Harvard Business Review, Alison Wood Brooks and Leslie K. John explore the power behind being able to ask the right questions at the right time. There are four major forms: introductory, mirror, full-switch, and follow-up questioning. The authors go on to say there are “introductory questions (‘How are you?’), mirror questions (‘I’m fine. How are you?’), full-switch questions (ones that change the topic entirely), and follow-up questions (ones that solicit more information). Although each type is abundant in natural conversation, follow-up questions seem to have special power.” According to Brooks and John, to follow-up with a question is indicative of caring and showing that you want to know more about the topic. Further, the originator of the question tends to feel they are being heard and respected.

As conversations between individuals develop, the authors encourage people to learn when to ask open ended versus simple yes or no (closed ended) type questions. Obviously, a confrontational conversation is going to be entirely different than a friendly one. They said “For example, if you are in a tense negotiation or are dealing with people who tend to keep their cards close to their chest, open-ended questions can leave too much wiggle room, inviting them to dodge or lie by omission. In such situations, closed questions work better, especially if they are framed correctly.”

Many times, the how you establish the order or sequence of questions can be important. The authors state the correct approach is based entirely on the situation. “During tense encounters , asking tough questions first, even if it feels socially awkward to do so, can make your conversational partner more willing to open up….(we) found that people are more willing to reveal sensitive information when questions are asked in decreasing order of intrusiveness.” How to balance the impact and degree of intrusion with the first question becomes very important.

In addition, it is important to set the proper tone in how you ask questions. If you are more laid back in asking, versus being very formal in nature, the studies performed by the authors indicated conversationalists were more than twice as willing to answer a sensitive question.

Other factors can influence the approach you take in asking questions. Be sensitive to the dynamics of the situation. If there are just two of you, the dynamics will be different than in a group. Predominant peer opinions will tend to sway the group dynamics.

From a sales perspective, the study indicated that the optimal range for asking questions irrespective of the gender or type of sales call is in the range of eleven to fourteen. 

Finally, by asking more questions you will be able to improve and refine your overall technique. The ability to ask the right questions will help you get the correct answers and hopefully provide you with another avenue for being able to grow your business.

Dan Arens is an Indiana-based business growth advisor.

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