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Telepathy, mind control, pre-cognition, clairvoyance, x-ray vision – where would our superheroes be without their superpowers?

If you’ve ever dreamed of being a superhero – someone powerful, who people look up to – today’s your lucky day! You can acquire your very own superpower to use for good, evil or however you like (but hopefully, you’ll use it for good).

Even though we normal folks don’t have powers, we do possess the capabilities to have one of the most important and formidable workplace interpersonal superpowers out there – the power of asking questions.

You may not be able to read minds or fly, but this is a superpower almost anyone can learn.

While we might not stop to consider this a real power – it is. Questions are the best way to gain deeper insights and develop more innovative solutions. It’s a very powerful way to learn and eliminate confusion. Asking questions can help guide a conversation in the direction that you want it to go – like lawyers, who will ask yes or no close-ended questions to maintain control over the witness. Asking questions helps stimulate creativity, generate ideas and problem solve. It can also make us more empathetic by allowing us to understand someone else’s viewpoint, which strengthens relationships.

With all those benefits, why do some people refuse to ask more questions? For one thing, people often assume too much off the bat and don’t bother to find out the truth anymore. Others are simply afraid that by asking questions they will be seen in a poor light and come off as ignorant. Some people are in such a hurry that stopping to ask a question feels like it slows them down.  

This skills is just like any superpower. You have to know when to use it. You also have to decide whether you’re using it for good or for evil. Are you using questions to manipulate, humiliate or embarrass someone or are you using them to gain information?

This is why asking questions takes a combination of a science and learned skills.

Unlike a superpower, it takes time to acquire. The skill is evident in your tone of voice, and your body language, both of which should be relaxed and amicable. The science behind this skills is simply knowing how to mix and combine different types of questions to get the results you are after. Developing effective questioning skills also means that you understand how to focus on the purpose behind your questions.

It’s important to know how exactly to construct your question and how to use different kinds of questions. Even superheroes know that asking questions is a sign of strength and intelligence – not a sign of weakness or uncertainty.

Now there is an irony here when it comes to questions, which is that is that not all of them are good. A bad question has the person trying to guess what you are thinking, such as a leading question, where you’re fishing for a particular answer. If you know the answer, why are you asking? A bad question can be much more difficult to answer than a good question. Another problem with bad questions is that they often seem to people like you’re just trying to get a yes out of them no matter what.

“Can you do this by Tuesday?”

This phrasing might come off as a subtle manipulation. Most people feel as they want to say no, but if the question makes it hard for them to do so, you have created an uncomfortable, defensive atmosphere. A bad question can derail a conversation and deflate someone instantly.

Technique is everything in the science of asking questions. Questions that start with “who,” “what,” “where”, “when,” “how,” or “why” have a high probability of receiving more well-thought-out responses. These started words form the basis for discovery, rather than a challenge.

Researchers have long known that asking yes or no questions are inhibiting. Consider which of the following is better?:

  • “Is this the best that you can do?” versus “What is the best that you can do?”
  • “Is this something you want to do?” versus “How can I make this work for you?”
  • “Can we work on delivery dates tomorrow?” versus “When can we work on  delivery dates?”

There is more value in asking open-ended questions, which allows someone to expand the conversation, explain or add to it. Beginning a question with  “would,” “should,” “is,” “are,” and “do you” limits the scope of the answer. Narrowing the scope should only be used to check facts, clarify a point or provide a direction to the information being gathered. It doesn’t inspire discussion and comes off as defensive.

Intelligent well-thought-out questions can stimulate conversation, provoke, inform and inspire. Questions are also links to other questions.  Questions are the best way to get the information we need to make informed decisions. When you ask good questions you can keep finding better answers and better answer yield power.

Instead of telling someone what to do, ask them a question and listen to the answer. Asking good questions is a superpower that requires practice, and training.

So, practice asking effective questions in your everyday conversations. Become a superhero.

I invite you to share your own experiences or thoughts, or comments. You can email or call me for more information on soft skills/interpersonal skills workshops that can transform your employees.