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The fine art of questioning

Posted by Chris Spence on April 1st, 2014 at 7:00 am

How good are you at asking questions? What about listening? I mean really listening and hearing -- waiting for that little something that sparks a genuine interest in you.

I find people interesting. All of them. And if you ask the right questions, you can learn so much. That is, of course, if you have an open mind and don’t have the personality of a stapler!

Spend time on your questioning technique

I’m an impulsive and brazen question asker…yep, self-confessed!

I find business meetings are a great opportunity to meet people and ask them questions about themselves and their business. Once the small talk is over, the conversation will turn to the reason for the meeting, sometimes to my disappointment. For me, exploring the depths of someone new is like revelling in a vat of beer for the first time.

Asking questions that aren’t directly related to the core reason for the meeting, is a great way to relax people. Your personality combines with theirs in a festival of verbal, physical and mental stimulation. Let’s call it communication!

Once you get to this stage of the conversation, talking business is that much easier. I highly recommend you try it.

Careful questioning is critical to market researchers

We hear a fair amount about how market researchers are naturally curious, and are experienced at asking the right questions. Actually I’d like to bust the myth that researchers are great at asking questions…I believe we are no better than the average Joe.

Why? Because as market researchers we need to ask questions in a relaxed, natural manner - some of us are great at it, some are poor, most are average.

As you will be aware, effective questioning isn’t limited to market researchers. It’s an art that comes in handy at work, in personal relationships, in problem solving and in many more situations. The value of careful questioning is highlighted when it’s underpinned by attentive listening.

Don’t underestimate the power of a very simple question

In a recent meeting with Hewlett Packard (HP), the basic question: ‘What’s the next big thing for HP?’ generated an interesting conversation. Particularly since the answer was ‘3D printers’.

Would you believe it? In your home! The world is changing – just take a look at these ‘Ten wild things you can 3D print at home’.

3D printers are now on sale in the US with the promise of printing virtually anything in the future. It raises a few ethical issues, highlighted by reports of the first metal 3D printed gun which has the capacity to fire 50 rounds. You get the picture.

Not to be outdone, when I asked Intel what they’ve been up to, their answer was also mind-boggling. They have made the smallest-ever computer to date – it’s the size of an SD card, which is one of those memory cards most of us have in our cameras. Complete with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, it is superbly powerful. The possibilities are endless, and it’s perfectly reasonable to say you may be wearing them soon.

On the flipside, a question like ‘What do you do on the weekend?’, generated this answer from the cool folks at Harley Davidson’s Asia Pacific headquarters. ‘We ride!’ they replied. Fact. They have a basement full of bikes, and choose one to match their ride and their mood. That’s what you call ‘being at one with the brand!'

What questioning has taught me

Setting people at ease in the first few minutes of meeting them is a recipe for success, and asking questions is a big part of that.

Oh, and if you can’t laugh at yourself you’re in trouble. Don’t take yourself too seriously when asking questions, have some fun - isn’t that what life is supposed to be about anyway?

Got any particular questions or questioning techniques that you’re prepared to share? I’d love to hear what’s worked well for you.

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