Alignment Performance Results

What Could Kill Your Career? Questions. Even If You’re the Smartest Person in the Room

Posted on 12/03/2018 in Executive Coaching, Featured Articles by Jack Speer

Here are some strategies for asking questions that will work for you that I have learned from the top experts. These strategies for asking questions will revolutionize your ability to get the outcomes you need.

In my early career I rarely asked questions—unless I wanted to find out the quickest way to the airport or where to get a good hamburger. Because of this I jeopardized my career more than once by never asking questions. It turns out that asking the right question is the single most important tool to succeed in a person’s life and career.

Earlier in my life, questions—asking rather than telling— were not in my wheelhouse.

My aim in my early career was to impress the people around me—I believed I could impress my way to success. I wanted people to believe I was the smartest person in the room, that I had the experience, skills, and talents to pass everyone on the road to success.

Because I didn’t ask questions:

  • My team was going one way—and I was going the other. I should have known where they were going, but when you don’t ask, you don’t find out.
  • Even though I had recognized talent, I wasn’t impressing many people—I didn’t really understand where to put my talents.
  • I was quite sure that if something needed to be done—I was the one who knew how to do it. Not only didn’t I get the benefit with of other people’s experience that I lacked, I didn’t understand that people’s resentments were growing as they thought I was arrogant and unbending, not a great way to sustain a career.
  • When you’re leading a team or on a team, your standing goes up and down. Your relationships have to be managed, and you can’t manage relationships without asking questions. What do you need from me? What can I do to support you better? When my stock was low on my team, I never knew it because I never asked key question.

Building a Strategy to Ask the Right Questions – Learn from the Experts

You need to develop techniques and strategies for asking the right questions. We’re always told we should ask open ended questions that draw quality information. We should avoid “yes” or “no” questions. They often don’t get you much information at all and sometimes produce misleading information. (No, I didn’t rob the cookie jar, but unsaid is I ate all the ham in the refrigerator.)
Although the skill of asking questions is very important, you must have an underlying strategy of asking questions to get key information and to grow relationships.

Here are some strategies for asking questions that will work for you that I have learned from the top experts. These strategies for asking questions will revolutionize your ability to get the outcomes you need.

Change your statements into questions. As a statement marker and grand pontificater, I always wanted to let people know the grand plan I had devised. I would explain in 3 easy steps how to grow revenue from $100,000 to $200,00 and would immediately get pushback from people who said it couldn’t be done.

So instead, I began to initiate with a question like, “How do you think that we might double our revenue?” Often their initial response was that it was impossible. I would then ask, “Even as a long shot, how do you think we might do it?” They would pause and say, “Well, here is the way it might happen.” I’d welcome their insight, and then began to say, “What if we began by adding this new product?” When we ended the discussion, we had a plan to move forward with—because I began with a question.”

Find out who you’re talking to—with questions. Before beginning any serious discussion, I want to find out who I’m really talking to. I used to think that was a huge waste of time. A great way I’ve developed to begin with is asking a question is, “What is a day like in your life (I’ll add their name)? This is a magic question. The other day when I asked it, the person I was talking to almost burst into tears, saying, “I have twins who are 21, and they have a disease that has kept them at a two year old level. My greatest priority is helping them. I would have never understood the context of his life had I not begun with this question.

What is important to you? The biggest shocker in asking this question is that what I care about deeply is not important to you. I used to talk an hour about what I thought you cared about, never being able to build a case for what I wanted on your thinking about what is important to you.

How do you do that? I have developed the ability to relate to doctors, scientists, slackers, and street people because I ask them how they do what they do. It takes a lot of ability as a scientist to devise an experiment, and a lot of skill as a street person to effectively solicit money from passerbyers and make a life on the streets. These two human beings can be equally interesting. The “How do you do that? question is key.

When you make a statement—it’s your truth, and people may or may not believe you. When you ask a question, you most often get a response that represents a good part of your thinking. That response is not your opinion, it is the responder’s truth.

Becoming a lifelong questioner is an important skill and takes a great deal of time and effort. You’ll have to muffle your ego and learn to focus on what others are saying, not just yourself. Asking can sometimes get you an answer that you never wanted to hear, but as I always say, “The Truth will make you free, but in the beginning it will just make you depressed.” Learning to be a skilled questioner, however, is the most important skill you have, in conjunction with education and experience. You can build your life on the foundation of questions.

"Larry Page" by NiallKennedy, used under CC BY-NC / Modified from the original.

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