Everyone asks for the keys to success, but few realize one of them is in the question itself. According to research conducted by Harvard Business School, the majority of us don’t ask enough questions, and consequently miss opportunities to learn something new, form strong relationships and excel in our careers.
Little do entrepreneurs know, questions are the best way to uncover your next big venture. If you’re looking for an idea to start a business or a way to take your career to the next level, just start asking. You never know when you’ll find the answer to your problems.
According to Harvard Business School research, people shy away from questions for a few reasons. First, some people are timid and uncomfortable using their voice. These people are typically nervous in nature, and afraid they’ll ask the wrong questions or receive some form of backlash from colleagues and superiors. Others are egocentric, and prefer to talk about themselves instead of being curious about others. In some situations, people are overconfident in their knowledge, and think there is no reason to ask a question to which they already know the answer.
If any of these apply to you, fret not – asking questions is a skill you can develop. Here are a few things to keep in mind when asking questions.
1. Follow up with follow-up questions.
In any given conversation, there are typically four different types of questions: introductory, mirror, full-shift and follow up. Harvard Business School research suggests that the most powerful of these are follow-up questions, since they show a genuine interest in what the other person has to say. People feel more respected and heard, which will improve your relationship.
The good news is follow-up questions don’t require much thought or preparation, since they are based on the conversation at hand. However, for people that aren’t the quickest on their feet, this can be challenging. Instead of trying to anticipate the answer, Harvard Business School recommends you focus on listening, instead of asking. Though this may seem counter-intuitive, it will help create a more natural follow ups and show the other person that you value their time and ideas.
Though you may be nervous, try not to show it. Studies show that when people ask questions in a casual, rather than uptight, manner, the other person is more likely to reveal sensitive information that they would otherwise withhold.
The same principle applies to asking people questions that appear nervous. A study by Harvard Business School revealed that when people believed they were able to change their answers, they were less hesitant in their responses. Keep it casual, and you’ll likely have a better conversation.
3. Pay attention to order.
If you’re looking for information and sense the room is tense, start with the tough questions. Though it may temporarily feel socially awkward, studies show people are more likely to open up if you ask questions in decreasing intrusiveness. But be careful of asking too sensitive a question right off the bat. A balance between privacy and transparency is key.
If you’re looking to build relationships, however, the opposite is true. Start with the baseline questions, and then slowly progress to more sensitive ones. Studies have shown that by following this simple structure, relationships underwent a closeness induction, and became stronger than those that asked sensitive questions right away.
4. Keep it open-ended.
A series of yes-or-no questions can make it seem more like an interrogation than a conversation. If you’re looking to uncover information, form relationships or learn something new, keeping the questions open-ended, and sometimes indirect, allows the answerer more freedom in their responses. This will lead to the innovative answers you couldn’t have predicted.
Keep in mind, closed questions are helpful in some situations, such as negotiations or reporting. They take away wiggle room that allows the other person to avoid answering the question directly and disclosing the information you need.
Written by Madison Semarjian