Good Questions Trump Easy Answers

Excerpted with the permission of the authors from Chapter One of Power Questions

We’re sitting comfortably in a sun-filled office on the 40th floor of a Chicago skyscraper. We ask the CEO, “What most impresses you when you meet someone who is trying to win your business? What builds trust and credibility with you early on in a relationship?”

This executive runs a $12 billion company. We are interviewing him about his most trusted business relationships. These are the service providers and suppliers his company goes back to again and again, the individuals who are part of his inner-circle of trusted advisors.

“I can always tell,” he says, “how experienced and insightful a prospective consultant, banker, or lawyer is by the quality of their questions and how intently they listen. That’s how simple it is.”

In a direct but sweeping statement about what builds a relationship, he tells us what hundred of others we’ve advised and interviewed also affirm: Good questions are often far more powerful than answers.

Good questions challenge your thinking. They reframe and redefine the problem. They throw cold water on our most dearly-held assumptions, and force us out of our traditional thinking. They motivate us to learn and discover more. They remind us of what is most important in our lives.

In ancient history, transformational figures such as Socrates and Jesus used questions to great effect. Their questions were teaching tools and also a means to change indelibly the people around them. We’ll meet both in later chapters and learn their techniques.

In the 20th century, towering intellectuals such as Albert Einstein and Peter Drucker loved to ask provocative questions.

One morning a young Einstein watched the sun glittering off a field of flowers. He asked himself, “Could I travel on that beam of light? Could I reach or exceed the speed of light?” Later, he told a friend, “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.”

Drucker is considered one of the most profound thinkers in the field of management. He was famous for his intense questioning sessions with clients.

Rather than offering advice, Drucker would pose simple but penetrating questions like, “What business are you really in?” And, “What do your customers value most?”
When a journalist once referred to him as a consultant, Drucker objected. He said he was actually an “insultant”— a nod to the tough, direct questions he liked to ask his clients.

Great artists have always understood the role of questions. It is no accident that the most famous dramatic passage in all of literature is built around a single question. “To be, or not to be, that is the question,” says Shakespeare’s Prince Hamlet as he contemplates life and death.

Would you like to know more about Power Questions?  Here is a really well done video overview Power Questions by Andrew Sobel:

 

Which of your friends would thank you for forwarding this post to them?

Jerold Panas & Andrew Sobel

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Authors of Power Questions: Jerold Panas & Andrew Sobel – Jerold Panas (1928-2018) was the world’s leading consultant in philanthropy and the CEO of Jerold Panas, Linzy & Partners, the largest consulting firm in the world for advising nonprofit organizations on fundraising. Andrew Sobel is the leading authority on building long-term client and other professional relationships. He can be reached at Andrew Sobel.

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4 thoughts on “Good Questions Trump Easy Answers

  1. Paul Cheese says:

    thanks Bob. This is such a great book – its one of those “easy but challenging” reads – i keep coming back to it! Highly recommended.

  2. Thanks Paul! What is your favorite “Power Question?” so far? And/or can you please share how you have already used one of the “Power Questions?”

  3. Gary Cohen says:

    Bob, Great to see someone else working at changing the world by the questions they ask. It has amazed me that moving people / leaders from telling to asking is a massive challenge and it is such a powerful way. Did you find it difficult to find academic research on the topic? Most of the work in my book was done one interview at a time. I was hoping to find universities that had funded research into the art of asking. Thanks again for your contribution and I look forward to reading it!

  4. Gary, always good to hear from you! Like you–I have not seen any academic research on the topic of “Leading with Questions.” If anyone reading this comment has–please let us know! Gary–You and Andrew Sobel and Jerold Panas really do need to connect–the 3 of you are obviously triplets who were somehow separated at birth. And thanks so much for all the work you did serve us all in writing your book “Just Ask Leadership!” which I also highly recommend and plan to make ongoing use of in future posts!

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