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The question is, “What’s the question?”

Græme Gordon blog

Græme Gordon, Executive Director, Praxity

It has struck me again over the last few weeks that the keys to success are seldom, if at all, how you look and present yourself, or the level or subject of your education. Although of course they can be factors.

Equally, while parental and spousal support can be crucial, they can only take you so far.

No, another key to success, which I have realised is actually more important than I had thought, is the ability to ask the right question at the right time.

And it’s not just about gathering information you don’t have. Of course, it is important to ask for help or to find out how a particular process works. It is often necessary to ask where the nearest coffee shop is (although I find I ask Siri more often than a real person).

Asking a question of someone, when you know or think you know the answer already, is actually a key way to connect with them. You get more engagement and better end results. You may also often learn much more than you thought you would.

For example, if you ask your child why they don’t like Brussels sprouts – assuming they’ve indicated a preference – you may be surprised by the answer. It could simply be the taste, in which case you can try masking it. However, it could be because they have heard from their peers that Brussels sprouts are “yukky”. Then a totally different approach is called for. Peer pressure is difficult, but not impossible, to overcome. Personally, my family loves Brussels sprouts so it’s never been an issue with me or my kids, but I know many who have had to deal with the challenge!

Now, Brussels sprouts aside, my observation about questions is equally true in business.

Whilst it’s always good to ask how colleagues are when you first meet them in the day, the usual reply of “fine” is not always truly the case. A follow-up question can help reveal an otherwise unexpressed issue. It may not be one you can help with but, more often than not, the fact they’ve had someone who wants to hear what they have to say can make a world of difference. Not only to their comfort but also perhaps to their attitude towards you. Equally, you may find out about a real issue that you can help with. In both instances, you will not only establish better working relationships but are also likely to cut your ‘churn’ rate.

A similar approach to questions can be especially fruitful with clients and prospects. More often than not, they have agreed to see you because they feel, at least on paper, that they could work with you. However, they will have their personal preferences and leanings that can only be explored in conversation.

Spending the valuable initial interaction telling them all about you is actually self-defeating. Ask them about them. Better still, have some key questions prepared which not only shows that you understand their business, but also that you are truly interested in helping them solve their problems and/or to meet their goals. Even if you don’t win the deal straight away, they will see you’re already interested in helping them rather than just trying to ‘sell’ yourself to them.

So, remember how a well thought-out and timely question is often much more powerful than a statement of fact. Sprouts may indeed be good for kids, but...