Questions are essential for improving a meeting’s effectiveness. By asking powerful questions, it compels you to really listen, opening your mind to understand what is being communicated, versus assuming what the answer will be. Leveraging these types of questions during a conversation signals to your outsourcing partner that you are actively participating in a discussion.
This next brain teaser illustrates the value of powerful questioning and how we tend to form questions based on what we assume an answer will be, limiting our power to comprehend fully what is being communicated.
A woman walks into a hardware store. She can buy 6 for $5, 12 for $12, or 24 for $12. What questions would you need to ask to determine what she is buying? Most of you probably want to ask: “Is the item made of metal?” or “Is it a buy one, get one free offer (BOGO)?” or even “Do you use the item to attach something, like a screw or a nail?” Why these questions? We are quick to form solutions in our minds and then create questions to validate what we believe to be true. For example, if you thought she was buying a ruler, you would have wanted to ask, “Does the item have anything to do with measuring?” This does not promote problem-solving because forming a solution so early closes off the mind to explore other options.
So, how do we stop doing this? Before asking a question, pause for a moment and ask yourself, “What assumptions am I making at the moment?” and “What do I believe to be true?” A logical question sequence would be as follows:
Question: “Does 48 cost $12?”
Question: “Does 96 cost $12?”
Final hint: “Yes, and 97 costs $12, 98 costs $12, but 100 does not cost $12.”
So, what’s the item being purchased? Quite simply, house numbers. Each single house number costs $6. If she resides at 100 Main Street, she would pay $18 for the three numbers versus 55 Main Street at a cost of $12. Probably quite different than your original assumption.
Powerful questions communicate respect and effectively challenge assumptions that limit. Asking questions of your sourcing partner builds trust and demonstrates your interest in their opinion. Powerful questions are:
1. Open ended. Close-ended questions yield little more than a “Yes” or “No” response and do not lead to any type of dialogue. Take note of how often you use them with your outsourcing partner and purposely shift to questions that start with “What” and “How” to open a conversation of exploration and understanding. Open-ended questions require the respondent to elaborate and share information.
2. Advice free. Beware of disguising your advice in a question. Examples include “Have you tried” or “What if you….” or “Why don’t you…” The response from your outsourcing partner will rarely be “Why didn’t I think of that?”
3. Short and simple. The most powerful questions are often the shortest. Do not agonize over how to word a question? Just be curious and really listen to what the other person is saying. The question will come to mind.
4. Forward-focused. Avoid getting caught up in replaying and rehashing the past. Thinking about the future is exciting, and everyone enjoys focusing on new points.
5. Not beginning with “why.” “Why” questions tend to put the person in a position of feeling they need to defend themselves. These types of questions trigger a “threat response.” If you catch yourself forming a “Why” question, rephrase it from, “Why did you do that?” to “What are you hoping to gain?” Notice the difference?