A couple of days ago I stumbled on some research about the use of questions. It seems 40% of all the questions people ask are really statements, and another 40% are actually judgments disguised as questions. (1)
I had to stop and think about that. On reflection, it makes sense, yet seeing the percentages in black and white was a little shocking.
Those ‘don’t you think …’ questions
If 80% of our questions are just a way of stating the obvious or sliding in our own opinion, that means only 20% focus on hearing what the other person has to say! If you’d like to do a little research of your own, catch some of the interviews on cable news programs. Or listen to ….
Questions expose our intentions
They instantly give away whether we are in listening or telling mode. Stop for a minute and think of a conversation you had recently. One that left you feeling the other person was holding back. Is it possible your questions discouraged their input? Accidentally implied you were not really ready to listen? Hum. Possible isn’t it?
Listening requires content
Once you ask good questions you can begin really listening. Because good questions can uncover information people haven’t yet discover for themselves, they’ll need time to go inside and figure it out. Time to pull up thoughts, feelings and perhaps even fears, about what really matters. So after you ask, pause. Be willing to wait. It shows your intention is to listen.
And speaking of good questions …
We weren’t, but it’s probably a good idea anyway. As a general rule of thumb, good questions are how and what questions. Here are a few of my favorites.
- What’s important to you about …. ? Fill in the subject you’re discussing. And then when they’ve finished telling you, asking with a meaningful look …‘if there were one thing more?’
- You must have a good reason for saying that … do you mind if I ask what it is? Great for handling judgments and blanket objections.
- How is that working for you? Works well for those ‘we already have that covered’ occassions. Asking how sends people inside to evaluate.
Let me know how these work for you, and if you have a sticky situation that needs a question, let me know that too. Next, more ways to listen …
(1) William Isaacs of MIT, in Dialogue And The Art Of Thinking Together, 1999.