Guest Post by Mark W. Winz

My training as a journalist prepared me to ask questions. As I progressed in my career I began taking opportunities to lead. But it took me a while to realize that the two could merge.

Once I adopted the concept of leading with questions, I returned to my journalism training in order to ask better questions.

These ideas from journalism might help you lead with questions more effectively.

As you think about a conversation, organize your questions like an interviewer might. Write them out and order them so you and the person you are talking with will progress through a conversation in meaningful way. Prioritize the questions and note the few most important questions to get to if time runs short.

As you converse, don’t hesitate to ask follow up questions. Your planned list likely will come up short. They might be as simple as “How do you know that?” “Can you give me a specific example?” or “Why?” or even a non-question, like “Tell me more.”

Ask open-ended questions. They begin with ‘How?’ ‘What?’ ‘Where?’ ‘When?’ and ‘Why?.’ That’s basic journalism, and the best way to lead with questions. Avoid questions answerable with one or two words, like “yes” or “17” or “the proposal.”

At the same time, check that each question is simple enough to get the answer you need. In “How journalists can become better interviewers,”  Chip Scanlon says, “The worst are conversation stoppers, such as double-barreled (even tripled-barreled) questions. ‘Why did the campus police use pepper spray on student protesters? Did you give the order?’” In a workplace, a similar multi-pronged question might take the conversation in an unhelpful direction.

You might intentionally ask about what you consider obvious. Sports journalist Jason Cole said, “Don’t worry about dumb questions—they might lead to smart answers.” (Sports fan, Cole, the reporter whose work led to Reggie Bush returning his Heisman Trophy in 2012, knows how to get information.) Even something like “What does our team do for the organization?” will give insight into how a team member sees her role.

Ask the right person the right questions. The article “Interviewing Principles from the Columbia School of Journalism”  says, “Ask specific questions that the source is competent to answer.” Asking a question that the person you are talking to can’t answer successfully may put them on the spot. Should she guess? Should he confess to not knowing? If she guesses, you might walk away thinking you have a solid idea and much later find it not workable.

Be patient. Ask a good question then…listen. Wait as long as it takes for him to answer. Legendary CBS News reporter Mike Wallace said, “The single most interesting thing you can do is ask a good question and then let the answer hang there for two or three or four seconds as though you’re expecting more. You know what? They get a little embarrassed and give you more.” Use silence to your benefit.

Finally, know that you will keep improving. William Zinsser said, “Interviewing is one of those skills that you only get better at.” Regardless of your experience, every time you use questions to connect with someone, to gain information and to pull out promising ideas, you will strengthen that skill. The more you use questions to lead, the more successful you will be in doing so in the future.

Mark_Winz Head ShotMark W. Winz serves as a managing editor for Worldwide Challenge magazine and Cru.org. Over the last 30 years, he has worked as a reporter, writer, photographer and editor. Currently he is also president of the Evangelical Press Association.

 

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