By Davide Costella
Have you ever wondered why sometimes you are able to persuade someone and other times not? Why some presentations sparked emotions in you and other presentations seemed boring? Why you find it difficult to get along with some of your colleagues, but others you get along with fine?
The answer lies in how language is used. You speak thousands of words per day, but are you aware of how those words can affect you and the people around you? With language, we build our identities.
With language, we create the Company’s missions and vision. With language, we build and dismantle relationships. Basically, everything we do is done through language and this is why it is so important to communicate consciously.
One of the most important skills in communication and the art of rhetoric is asking powerful questions. This is true in business and in private life. The quality of your questions determine the quality of the answers you get.
Now, imagine you are the Operation Director of a big FMCG and your team needs to tackle a particular challenge. You decide to trigger a brainstorming session by asking the team to answer this question: “How can we decrease the cost of our supply chain?” One could argue that this is a good opening question that could help the team find unconventional ideas, which ultimately is the purpose of brainstorming. The downside, however, of asking this particular question is that many of the answers the team members will provide, probably will not be useable. You might get answers that cut supply chain costs, but jeopardize the quality or reduce customer satisfaction.
It’s advantageous to pose a more precise question, for example, “Which initiatives can help us achieve a 10 million CHF savings in our supply chain this year while still maintaining the same quality standards and great customer experience?” This question will focus the team’s responses on what the actual goal is and you can get better answers.
Another common error is asking one question after the other, such as “Do you plan to launch this project before or after you are done with the staffing of the team? I mean, where do you stand with the recruiting process? You still have the budget, right?” Multiple questions like these confuse your audience; they don’t know which question to answer. Instead, before you ask your question pause, reflect on what your goal is, and then ask just one question.
Whenever you ask a question, it is crucial that you remain silent after you ask. Most people feel uncomfortable with silence and if they do not hear an answer right away, will fill that silence themselves. Next time you ask a question, wait 3 seconds and then other 3 seconds if necessary, before you speak again. Train yourself to tolerate silence. You will be surprised at what you hear.
Questions can also be used in the art of rhetoric and negotiation to win arguments, especially when you want win-win solutions. Consider this dialogue:
This defensive response will make the other person feel defensive as well and can start a conflictual conversation which will not help either of you get what you want.
It is better to ask open-ended questions and avoid closed ones. Closed questions are those that can be answered with YES or NO -- for example “Didn’t you say you had budget for this project!? “Answer: “NO.”
Open-ended questions (like the one Karen asked above) are more powerful. Remember: When to ask an open-ended question, you need to start your sentence with WHAT, HOW, WHICH, WHO, etc.
There are many more aspects to consider in learning the art of asking the right questions. But you can start by remembering these three:
If you’d like to learn more about how to communicate consciously so you can be more powerful in your dealings with others, please contact Davide Costella.
Self-Help Book / Personal Development