How To Ask Powerful Questions

questionmarksHave you ever been reluctant to ask questions? I notice this often as I help groups to collaborate, where developing strong inquiry skills is an important activity.

Participants who are reluctant to ask questions put forward various explanations: they don’t want to be rude by grilling the other person, for example.

But I have a sneaking suspicion that they really don’t want to step off their “expert” pedestals. A lot of the people I work with have powerful reputations as real experts in their specialist areas – and they often don’t want to admit there’s something they don’t know.

Could asking a question make them appear weak?

I think their fear is misplaced. I fact, asking a good question can be a high-status power move.

In Question Based Selling, Thomas Freese says: “He who asks the questions holds the power in the conversation.”

He takes his readers on an illustrative flight of fancy: imagine that the President of the United States suddenly walks into your office, unannounced. “After the initial shock of the situation, you pull yourself together long enough to realize that you have the opportunity of a lifetime – a chance to talk with the President of the United States.

“But rather than trying to impress him with something you could say, you decide to ask a question… The President pauses for a moment to collect his thoughts, and then begins to respond.

“Here’s my point. At the very moment in time when the President of the United States begins to respond to your question, who is answering to whom?… At this point, you have control of the conversation because you are the one who asked the question.”

As I’ve said many times, energy flows where attention goes. Your questions can direct attention with great precision. When you control another person’s attention with your questions, you unquestionably have control of the conversation.

What could be more powerful than that?

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