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The Art of Asking Questions

shutterstock_75492052From the IonWays Flow Newsletter Archives  

In recent articles, we have touched on the importance of listening to the customer.  Many people find this difficult because they’re not sure what questions to ask in order to receive a proper, communicative response.  It’s important that we learn to properly ask questions in order to find the information we’re seeking.  These questions should be open-ended questions as opposed to closed-ended questions.

An open-ended question calls for an answer greater than a single word or two. A closed-ended question may be answered with a simple “Yes,” “No,” or an additional really simple answer.

For instance, if you want to know what happened after you left the party, you may ask:

“Did you talk to Bob?” or…

“Did Susan leave with John?” or…

“Did they finish the entire barbecue?”

With open-ended questions, you may simply ask, “What happened after I left?” Chances are you’ll hear what you wish to know somewhere in the answer. If not, you may follow that up with another open-ended question, “What happened with Susan and John?”

Let’s say you want to know why a date was cancelled. Was it something you had said or done? Did someone get sick? Did you forget? You could ask any of these closed-ended questions or the very simple and open, “Why did you cancel our date?”

If the answer was vague or too general, my next open-ended question may be just slightly less open-ended.

Me: “Why did you cancel our date?”

You: “I wasn’t feeling well.”

Me: “Oh? I hope you’re feeling better now. What was wrong?”

After you’ve asked your open-ended question(s) and still haven’t received the specific information for which you were looking, it’s now effective and acceptable to ask more specific questions like, “What happened to the barbecue?”

Follow up with “Why?” or “How?” Make sure that your line of questioning is focused.

For example, if I were trying to find out if my customer thought she was being more health conscience by drinking bottled water, I have to be careful that my question is not too broad.  An example of this would be:

Me: “Do you drink bottled water?”

Him: “Yes”

Me: “Why?”

Him: “Because it tastes better than tap water.”

Be narrow and then open. If you’re fighting to get the individual to open up with broad open questions, try narrowing the questions first and then make them broader after getting them into the conversation. An example of this would be:

Me: “Do you drink bottled water?”

Him: “Yes”

Me: “What health benefits do you feel you get from drinking bottled water?”

Likely you’ll get an answer closer to what you are seeking, and from this, start opening up the question further.

Listen! Occasionally we’re guilty of formulating the next question without paying attention to the answer to the first. You’ll miss excellent opportunities for follow-up questions if you do this! Make an effort to listen to the reply you asked for!  Practice, practice, practice.

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