The other day, I entered a famous, expensive electronics shop looking for an internet radio. I stopped in front of what looked like a possible device for what I was looking for. An impeccably dressed salesperson approached: I asked him a question; he answered, and then kept talking. The device was not what I wanted, so I kept browsing. Five minutes later, I found another device that looked more like what I needed, so I called for help. The same salesperson described the device for me, and then stayed at my side, silent and polite. He never asked me a single question.
If he had asked me the first time, he would have understood what I wanted and would have taken me straight away to the second device. I would have been happy, and probably would have bought it. Instead, I felt annoyed, not understood, and unimportant. A simple question about what I was after and why would have been enough to get me hooked. Instead, I went somewhere else.
We all know that open questions are more effective than closed ones, if we want to keep the conversation going. But we should not underestimate the effectiveness of simple words such as ‘where’, ‘when’, ‘what’, and ‘why’. Why is my favourite, the most important of all. Keep asking why until the person stops and you will have all the information you need. This is a trick you hear young children use. And yes, it can be annoying: Why? Why? Why? This is because children can do it mechanically, without processing the answer or seeming to care for it.
Asking questions is about listening and seeking to understand. Seeking to understand builds trust. And with trust everything is possible.
At Walking the Talk we have conducted many culture assessments to find out how an organisation’s culture is built, and the belief systems that underpin how people behave. To do this, one of our most powerful (and simple) tools is the use of the Why. We keep asking why until we reach the point where everything is said. And what we find then is clarity.
I am constantly working on it myself: Stop telling – Ask more questions – Seek to understand (before being understood) – Connect with the other party and don’t try to sell them your story first.
What about you? Do you ask questions and always care for the answer?
(Reader, please note: That’s two questions. And I do care about your answers.)