So much has been written about the need to ask questions. Sometimes I feel guilty reminding people how important it is to ask questions. Need I remind you that the more people talk, the more they like the person they are talking to? I guess not. Should I remind you that asking questions indicates that you are really interested in the person you’re talking to? I suppose not. Lastly, have I mentioned that asking questions is crucial in building trust? Darn it; there I go again! But what if I told you that’s only half the story?
In some of the workshops I deliver, I run a little exercise that involves having people take turns selling something to another individual. I pass out small tape recorders so they can record those conversations. By listening to the recordings, we find that they may not be asking any questions or believe it or not, they are asking too many questions.
Is it possible to actually ask too many questions? It sure is, particularly if you are asking the wrong kind of questions. The right kind of questions are open questions: questions that cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” Open questions get people to expand on information, and they can open up a reserved person. Sometimes, a well placed open question like, “Everybody has a story; what’s yours?” can take another person five minutes to answer.
On the other hand, closed questions are questions that can be answered with a simple, “yes” or “no.” They can confirm information, test understanding, and sometimes intimidate another individual. Closed questions not only don’t get a conversation going, and they can kill a good conversation.
I think everyone has a memory of a bad first date with someone, and I’m guessing that there were a lot of closed questions asked during those dates. The conversation may have been like this:
“So, uh, you lived here long?”
“Uh, yes, I sure have.”
“Hmm. That’s nice. Uh, do you like sushi?”
“Uh, yes, yes I do.”
I could go on but it’s too painful. Closed questions not only kill a good conversation, but they also can intimidate. If you’ve ever been stopped by a police officer for speeding, I’m guessing you didn’t hear many open questions like, “How you doing sir – share with me your feelings about the laws in this great state of Maryland?” Instead you most likely heard:
“Do you know why I pulled you over?”
“Do you understand the laws in this state?”
“Do you have your license and registration for that vehicle?”
This isn’t an accident. These questions are intended to intimidate you. This is not supposed to be a conversation; it’s an interrogation, and it’s quite effective if you are a police officer!
You see, just learning to ask questions is not enough. You need to know what kinds of questions to ask, and when to ask them. By doing that, you’ll learn a lot about the person you’re talking to and the conversation will flow effortlessly. It is such a seemingly simple concept, but being aware of the kinds of questions you ask will serve you well.