The art of great questioning

The art of great questioning

Regardless of what industry or job you’re in, if you interact with people then developing great questioning skills is one of the best investments you can make.

I consult with businesses every day, helping them improve their results. I’m always acutely aware of the amount of information being missed and the potential for risk and conflict based on a lack of understanding.

Questioning, alongside listening, is one of the greatest skills you could possibly have.

Only the other day, I was with one of my clients leading a performance review with the business owner and asked him for his input. I needed to get to the bottom of something, so I was trying to uncover some truths that needed to be expressed.

The first two questions I asked didn’t get to the root of the issue. However, when I asked the third (which was just the first two combined into a new way), the resistance was removed and the truth came out.

The business owner looked at me and said, “You and your dark arts! I have enormous respect for how you can get all that information out of me with your questions”.

He then went on to invite me to their next board meeting. He felt that my skills could help him extract what’s really going on and what’s needed to steer the company in the right direction.

Sometimes, we don’t even know what we need until a question directs us to the right place in our minds to consider it. That’s why questioning skills is an essential ingredient for leadership, sales, and customer experience roles.

When you understand a need, you can fulfil it.

Because I’m so passionate about great questioning, it’s become one of our main teaching points. It’s such a huge asset to your leadership toolkit that I wanted to write this article to help you think differently about questioning and arm yourself with some techniques to become a Master of Communication.

People talking and shaking hands after a great interview

How can I ask great questions?

Good question!

Listening and questioning go hand in hand. The art of great questioning lies in the ability to really listen and noticing what the statement DOESN’T say, as well as what it does.

Let me show you what I mean with an example.

A colleague really irritated me this morning and now I can’t focus. I need something to be done.

Let’s look at this statement a little closer. What’s missing here? How many gaps can you spot?

How many questions do you think you could ask in reply to this one statement?

  1. Which colleague?
  2. What caused you to be irritated?
  3. What time this morning?
  4. Where did this happen?
  5. What do you need to focus on?
  6. What do you need done?
  7. When do you expect this to be done?
  8. How did the situation arise?
  9. What was said, or done, before it became irritating?
  10. How could you have improved your interaction with them?
  11. What was their reaction to you?
  12. How do they feel?
  13. What was the outcome?
  14. How was this a problem?
  15. What needs to happen for you to let this go?

I’m going to stop at 15 because, and i’m not kidding here, I could literally go on forever and bore you to tears! You get my drift, right?

There’s so much information that’s NOT said in that single sentence, and it’s up to you to find out the answers. In my experience, people tend to work only at the surface. They hear information and make their own meaning out of it. Assumptions are made. That’s when you’re in seriously dangerous territory!

You need to peel back the layers using probing questions to understand the full story. When you’ve got the skills to hear what’s not there as well as what is there, you have the power to ask the questions that change the whole situation.

The first things you need to do is ask open questions that start with:

Who, what, how, when, which, talk me through, tell me about…

Closed questions evoke a yes or no answer. This isn’t peeling back any layers! They have their value when you’re looking to clarify information and closing sales processes, but not for when you’re looking for this sort of information.

Woman standing up and leading a meeting with great questions

NLP questioning techniques

Now my client may have referred to my questioning skills as the dark arts, I can assure you that I’m not some sort of sorceress or wizard!

I do, however, have NLP to thank for my excellent communication skills.

On my quest to becoming a people expert and developing myself as a person and communicator, I became a practitioner of NLP. Over time, I became a Master Practitioner, and now I have the pleasure of training other leaders and businesses in the use of NLP.

NLP provides a set of techniques using language to access key parts of the mind and uncover information.

In accessing that information, the communicator using NLP can make more impact with their communication which can lead to harmonious outcomes, deeper understanding, stronger relationships, and powerful influence.

Example NLP questions

What’s important to you about….? (Your career, family, friendships, work relationships, etc.?)

This question accesses the part of our mind that works with values. These are the basis of all emotions for us as human beings.

When you can provide what’s needed in someone’s values then you’re building something long lasting and meaningful.

This question is great or increasing conversion rates in sales. When you access what’s really driving the decision to buy and what’s important to them about the purchase, you can deliver exactly what’s needed to win the business.

When you can fully understand the values of a colleague or employee, you can adjust and create mutually beneficial relationships that work beautifully.

Values are far deeper than our buying and decision making strategies, so accessing these values is a critical part of success in any relationship.

There are more specific techniques for values elicitation and working with values that I include in all of my sales and leadership training. It’s such an incredibly powerful technique, even just on day-to-day interactions.

Team sat on the sofa discussing work and asking each other insightful questions

Using the Meta Model to uncover limiting beliefs

Limiting thoughts or beliefs are one of the main reasons for underperformance within the workspace, as well as failed relationships and a lack of personal or professional success.

Sometimes we don’t even know we have a limiting belief until it’s pulled out of us!

The Meta Model is an NLP questioning technique which digs deeper into an issue to find the underlying belief. This is the cause and effect that’s blocking any success.

An example of a limiting belief may be:

I can’t get the jobs I want because I didn’t have a good education

People won’t necessarily come right out and say that. In fact, they might not even realise that the belief is there.

They may say something like:

It’s frustrating that I’m not getting interviews for all the jobs I want.

The Meta Model allows you to dig deeper to find the root of this belief.

Some Meta Model questions I would use in this situation would be:

  • What’s causing you to choose to feel frustrated?
  • Not any interviews?
  • How is it a problem?

Meta Model questions are designed to challenge the way something is put together in someone’s internal world. By challenging it, the neurology can respond differently.

For example, the ‘not any interviews?’ sounds like an odd way to phrase a question. However, it may cause them to respond with ‘well, actually I am getting some interviews for good jobs’.

Sometimes people draw conclusions and generalisations that don’t serve them well. Making them think differently allows them to unblock the negative thoughts and think of the positives.

Although Meta Model is designed to challenge, it’s a positive challenge and it should always be delivered in a curious tone. As soon as you use an accusing tone, the person will respond defensively – definitely not what you want!

When you do this, keep an ear out for phrases such as ‘I can’t, because…’ and ‘Because I didn’t have X, I can’t have Y’. This is most likely to be a limiting belief, and it’s exactly what you’re looking for!

When you become consciously aware of this, you’ll notice cause and effect everywhere. We all have our own worlds that are build on these cause and effect.

Sometimes, they empower us. Unfortunately, they can also limit us.

During your communication with them, listen out for these cause and effect phrases and loosen them up a bit with:

  • How exactly does this mean this?
  • What causes you to choose to feel X?
  • How is it a problem?

Hierarchy of ideas (or Chunking Up)

When you go big picture, you can always find common ground. These questions are great for conflict resolution, as it forces them to go bigger than the initial conflict.

  • For what purpose?
  • What’s the intention of that?
  • What will that get for you?

By using these questions, you can step outside of the detail and move outwards, eventually finding common ground.

Once you find this common ground, you can come back down to the specifics and find more agreement because you’re already in agreement at some level.

There are a few other questioning techniques I could teach you but this article is already long enough and I could go off on a million tangents!

I can honestly say that developing great questioning skills has both saved, and made me, thousands of pounds in business. It helps you recruit the right people, work with the right clients, deliver what’s needed more efficiently, and build incredible relationships.

If you’d like to find out about our communication training and get your teams kitted out with the best questioning skills around, you can have a chat with me for free to discuss your options. That way, you can see if it’s right for you or not before you invest.

Regardless of if you end up booking training with me or not, I’ll make sure you leave the consultation with actionable tips and advice for you to improve your team’s skills!

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