Meaningful Conversations: Start with Great Questions

Meaningful Conversations: Start with Great Questions

Business November 06, 2013 / By Lisa Bodell
Meaningful Conversations: Start with Great Questions

Oftentimes, we get so wrapped up in focusing on getting answers that we don’t think about the questions. To uncover new and unique solutions, we need to take a step back and focus on the way we ask for information. Shake up your next team meeting or conversation by having a few of these provocative questions up your sleeve. You might be surprised by what you can accomplish, just by asking different questions.

Ever notice how some people have a real knack for driving conversations that get to the heart of an important issue? Instead of dancing around a topic and asking surface-level questions, they strike with you a doozy that actually makes you stop and think. You’re so caught off guard that you have a rare moment of unbridled honesty, and offer up an answer that you yourself hadn’t even considered until that very moment.

How did that happen? Simple: a great question.

In today’s workplace, the power of provocative questions is underrated. It’s ironic really, since all brilliant answers start with questions. To have more meaningful, productive conversations and get better answers, we need to ask better questions.

Follow the tips below to rethink your asking strategy:

Find a new audience
Does it sometimes feel like you’re going round and round in circles at meetings because the same ideas keep getting repeated for solving existing problems? Not only is it frustrating, but similar solutions generally yield similar results. Next time, try inviting different people to your meetings to gain a new perspective. For example, think outside of your own staff when it comes to meeting invites. Do you work with a vendor who might be able to think about your business in a different way? See if one of their staff members can participate in a brainstorming session.

Avoid one-word answers
The most thoughtful questions can’t be answered with one word, so frame your questions in a way that makes people expand. To yield longer and more detailed responses, try focusing your questions on how, what, and why.

Don’t rely on spontaneity
If thinking of compelling questions on the spot were easy, we would all be masters of inquiry. Since that isn’t the case, it’s smart to prepare ahead of time. At my company, futurethink, we created a list of Killer Queries that were developed to get perceptive, game-changing answers. Here are a few examples:

• If you were a competitor, what two things would you do to put us out of business?
• What external jolts or wildcards have the potential to significantly impact our industry? What would be the impact?
• What could we STOP doing that would make customers say “thank you”?

Killer Queries are a great way to spark creative thinking, especially when teams get stuck in a rut. It’s also helpful to include a couple of these questions in regular team meetings to mix it up and promote fresh ideas.

Get creative
Unusual questions tend to yield interesting answers. Try framing questions in new way to get people thinking differently. A futurethink client in the metal producing industry employed this strategy to obtain feedback from employees on ideas for improving their culture. They used the following Killer Query:

• If we could undergo a corporate culture exorcism, what three ‘evil’ customs should be eliminated?”

By framing the question in a fun and creative way, the company was able to start a productive discussion where employees were excited to participate.

Forget your assumptions
Remember the saying, “When you assume, you make an ass out of u and me?” Keep this in mind when formulating questions. Sometimes it’s helpful to question assumptions and norms to help guide discussions that yield new solutions. Here are a couple of example questions that help people clear their mind of existing (and limiting) ideas:

• What are the unshakable beliefs in our industry about what customers want? What if the opposite were true?
• What rules or processes are holding us back from being more efficient?
• What do we wish we could do at work that we can’t right now? What would happen if we did it?

Queries like these help people challenge the status quo and build momentum for positive change.

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