Added: Benjamine Mcfadden - Date: 25.09.2021 09:20 - Views: 17353 - Clicks: 4523
Asking questions is a uniquely powerful tool for unlocking value in organizations: It spurs learning and the exchange of ideas, it fuels innovation and performance improvement, it builds rapport and trust among team members. And it can mitigate business risk by uncovering unforeseen pitfalls and hazards.
But few executives think of questioning as a skill that can be honed—or consider how their own answers to questions could make conversations more productive. The good news is that by asking questions, we naturally improve our emotional intelligence, which in turn makes us better questioners—a virtuous cycle. The authors draw on insights from behavioral science research to explore how the way we frame questions and choose to answer our counterparts can influence the outcome of conversations.
They offer guidance for choosing the best type, tone, sequence, and framing of questions and for deciding what and how much information to share to reap the most benefit from our interactions, not just for ourselves but for our organizations. Some professionals such as litigators, journalists and even doctors, are taught to ask questions as part of their training.
But few executives think about questioning as a skill that can be honed. Questioning is a powerful tool for unlocking value in companies: It spurs learning and the exchange of ideas, it fuels innovation and better performance, it builds trust among team members. Several techniques can enhance the power and efficacy of queries: Favor follow-up questions, know when to keep questions open-ended, get the sequence right, use the right tone, and pay attention to group dynamics.
Yet unlike professionals such as litigators, journalists, and doctors, who are taught how to ask questions as an essential part of their training, few executives think of questioning as a skill that can be honed—or consider how their own answers to questions could make conversations more productive. Questioning is a uniquely powerful tool for unlocking value in organizations: It spurs learning and the exchange of ideas, it fuels innovation and performance improvement, it builds rapport and trust among team members.
For some people, questioning comes easily. Their natural inquisitiveness, emotional intelligence, and ability to read people put the ideal question on the tip of their tongue. In this article, we draw on insights from behavioral science research to explore how the way we frame questions and choose to answer our counterparts can influence the outcome of conversations.
We offer guidance for choosing the best type, tone, sequence, and framing of questions and for deciding what and how much information to share to reap the most benefit from our interactions, not just for ourselves but for our organizations. Why do so many of us hold back? There are many reasons. People may be egocentric—eager to impress others with their own thoughts, stories, and ideas and not even think to ask questions.
They may be overconfident in their own knowledge and think they already know the answers which sometimes they do, but usually not. If they did, they would end far fewer sentences with a period—and more with a question mark. Dating back to the s, research suggests that people have conversations to accomplish some combination of two major goals: information exchange learning and impression management liking. Recent research shows that asking questions achieves both. Alison and Harvard colleagues Karen Huang, Michael Yeomans, Julia Minson, and Francesca Gino scrutinized thousands of natural conversations among participants who were getting to know each other, either in online chats or on in-person speed dates.
The researchers told some people to ask many questions at least nine in 15 minutes and others to ask very few no more than four in 15 minutes. Among the speed daters, people were more willing to go on a second date with partners who asked more questions.
In fact, asking just one more question on each date meant that participants persuaded one additional person over the course of 20 dates to go out with them again. Asking a lot of questions unlocks learning and improves interpersonal bonding. Questions are such powerful tools that they can be beneficial—perhaps particularly so—in circumstances when question asking goes against social norms.
For instance, prevailing norms tell us that job candidates are expected to answer questions during interviews. But research by Dan Cable, at the London Business School, and Virginia Kay, at the University of North Carolina, suggests that most people excessively self-promote during job interviews.
And when interviewees focus on selling themselves, they are likely to forget to ask questions—about the interviewer, the organization, the work—that would make the interviewer feel more engaged and more apt to view the candidate favorably and could help the candidate predict whether the job would provide satisfying work. The first step in becoming a better questioner is simply to ask more questions.
Of course, the sheer of questions is not the only factor that influences the quality of a conversation: The type, tone, sequence, and framing also matter. In our teaching at Harvard Business School, we run an exercise in which we instruct pairs of students to have a conversation. Some students are told to ask as few questions as possible, and some are instructed to ask as many as possible. Among the low-low pairs both students ask a minimum of questions , participants generally report that the experience is a bit like children engaging in parallel play: They exchange statements but struggle to initiate an interactive, enjoyable, or productive dialogue.
The high-high pairs find that too many questions can also create a stilted dynamic. Sometimes the question asker learns a lot about her partner, the answerer feels heard, and both come away feeling profoundly closer. Other times, one of the participants may feel uncomfortable in his role or unsure about how much to share, and the conversation can feel like an interrogation. Our research suggests several approaches that can enhance the power and efficacy of queries. The best approach for a given situation depends on the goals of the conversationalists—specifically, whether the discussion is cooperative for example, the duo is trying to build a relationship or accomplish a task together or competitive the parties seek to uncover sensitive information from each other or serve their own interests , or some combination of both.
Consider the following tactics. Conversations fall along a continuum from purely competitive to purely cooperative. Here are some challenges that commonly arise when asking and answering questions and tactics for handling them. Not all questions are created equal. How are you? Although each type is abundant in natural conversation, follow-up questions seem to have special power. They al to your conversation partner that you are listening, care, and want to know more. People interacting with a partner who asks lots of follow-up questions tend to feel respected and heard.
No one likes to feel interrogated—and some types of questions can force answerers into a yes-or-no corner. Open-ended questions can counteract that effect and thus can be particularly useful in uncovering information or learning something new. Indeed, they are wellsprings of innovation—which is often the result of finding the hidden, unexpected answer that no one has thought of before. For example, if you are in a tense negotiation or are dealing with people who tend to keep their cards close to their chest, open-ended questions can leave too much wiggle room, inviting them to dodge or lie by omission.
In such situations, closed questions work better, especially if they are framed correctly. In these situations, a survey tactic can aid discovery. Although this tactic may sometimes prove useful at an organizational level—we can imagine that managers might administer a survey rather than ask workers directly about sensitive information such as salary expectations—we counsel restraint in using it. The optimal order of your questions depends on the circumstances.
During tense encounters, asking tough questions first, even if it feels socially awkward to do so, can make your conversational partner more willing to open up. Leslie and her coauthors found that people are more willing to reveal sensitive information when questions are asked in a decreasing order of intrusiveness.
Of course, if the first question is too sensitive, you run the risk of offending your counterpart. There are few business settings in which asking questions is more important than sales. A recent study of more than , business-to-business sales conversations—over the phone and via online platforms—by tech company Gong. Consistent with past research, the data shows a strong connection between the of questions a salesperson asks and his or her sales conversion rate in terms of both securing the next meeting and eventually closing the deal.
This is true even after controlling for the gender of the salesperson and the call type demo, proposal, negotiation, and so on. However, there is a point of diminishing returns. Conversion rates start to drop off after about 14 questions, with 11 to 14 being the optimal range. The data also shows that top-performing salespeople tend to scatter questions throughout the sales call, which makes it feel more like a conversation than an interrogation.
Just as important, top salespeople listen more and speak less than their counterparts overall. Taken together, the data from Gong. If the goal is to build relationships, the opposite approach—opening with less sensitive questions and escalating slowly—seems to be most effective. The pairs who followed the prescribed structure liked each other more than the control pairs. Asking tough questions first can make people more willing to open up. Good interlocutors also understand that questions asked ly in a conversation can influence future queries.
However, when the same questions were asked in the opposite order, the answers were less closely correlated. People are more forthcoming when you ask questions in a casual way, rather than in a buttoned-up, official tone. The control group was presented with a neutral-looking site. Participants were about twice as likely to reveal sensitive information on the casual-looking site than on the others. For example, if they are told that they can change their answers at any point, they tend to open up more—even though they rarely end up making changes. This might explain why teams and groups find brainstorming sessions so productive.
In a whiteboard setting, where anything can be erased and judgment is suspended, people are more likely to answer questions honestly and say things they otherwise might not. Of course, there will be times when an off-the-cuff approach is inappropriate. Participants were told either that most others in the study were willing to reveal stigmatizing answers or that they were unwilling to do so. In a meeting or group setting, it takes only a few closed-off people for questions to lose their probing power.
The opposite is true, too. As soon as one person starts to open up, the rest of the group is likely to follow suit. Group dynamics can also affect how a question asker is perceived. But when third-party observers watch the same conversation unfold, they prefer the person who answers questions. This makes sense: People who mostly ask questions tend to disclose very little about themselves or their thoughts. To those listening to a conversation, question askers may come across as defensive, evasive, or invisible, while those answering seem more fascinating, present, or memorable.
Just as the way we ask questions can facilitate trust and the sharing of information—so, too, can the way we answer them. Answering questions requires making a choice about where to fall on a continuum between privacy and transparency. Should we answer the question? If we answer, how forthcoming should we be? What should we do when asked a question that, if answered truthfully, might reveal a less-than-glamorous fact or put us in a disadvantaged strategic position? Each end of the spectrum—fully opaque and fully transparent—has benefits and pitfalls. Keeping information private can make us feel free to experiment and learn.
In negotiations, withholding sensitive information such as the fact that your alternatives are weak can help you secure better outcomes. At the same time, transparency is an essential part of forging meaningful connections. Even in a negotiation context, transparency can lead to value-creating deals; by sharing information, participants can identify elements that are relatively unimportant to one party but important to the other—the foundation of a win-win outcome.
And keeping secrets has costs. In an organizational context, people too often err on the side of privacy—and underappreciate the benefits of transparency. How often do we realize that we could have truly bonded with a colleague only after he or she has moved on to a new company?
Why are better deals often uncovered after the ink has dried, the tension has broken, and negotiators begin to chat freely? There is no rule of thumb for how much—or what type—of information you should disclose. But this intuition is wrong. Before a conversation takes place, think carefully about whether refusing to answer tough questions would do more harm than good. Of course, at times you and your organization would be better served by keeping your cards close to your chest.
In our negotiation classes, we teach strategies for handling hard questions without lying. Eloquent dodgers were liked more than ineloquent answerers, but only when their dodges went undetected. Another effective strategy is deflecting, or answering a probing question with another question or a joke. Answerers can use this approach to lead the conversation in a different direction. Personal creativity and organizational innovation rely on a willingness to seek out novel information.
Questions and thoughtful answers foster smoother and more-effective interactions, they strengthen rapport and trust, and lead groups toward discovery. All this we have documented in our research. But we believe questions and answers have a power that goes far beyond matters of performance. The wellspring of all questions is wonder and curiosity and a capacity for delight. We pose and respond to queries in the belief that the magic of a conversation will produce a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Sustained personal engagement and motivation—in our lives as well as our work—require that we are always mindful of the transformative joy of asking and answering questions.
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