My first adventure out of college was in sales, which lead to becoming a sales manager. One of the things I quickly picked up on was that great sales people were not great talkers, they were great listeners. Great listening sales people asked great, thoughtful questions and listened to the responses of their customers and followed up with more questions. Great questions lead to building trust which became the foundation of a good business relationship and increased sales!
Asking great questions has served me well.
When I left sales and became a facilitator of experience-based learning for adults, asking great, attentive, thoughtful questions became the foundation of my work. When people ask me what I do for a living, I tell them I put people in unfamiliar situations and ask questions!
Great financial planners begin by asking great questions. Great architects ask great questions. Great teachers are all about great questions. Asking great questions is the foundation of great lawyering! Great mentors know how to ask great questions of their proteges. Great leaders ask great questions. Their go-to question is “Why?”
Great questions are more important than the answers. In fact a great question is more important than a 1,000 great answers! Great questions lead to more great questions. Great questions challenge existing answers.
Great questions cause the recipient(s) of the question to pause, think, consider, ponder and wonder. Great questions can’t be answered immediately. I’ve learned that when I ask an individual or a group a great question during a coaching session or a debrief, not to worry if there is not a quick or immediate response. I’ve learned to embrace pregnant pauses. I’ve learned to respect the silence and know marination is taking place. Thoughtful, unexpected, unpredicted answers will come!
The worst thing you can do after you’ve asked a great question and received a response is to tell your story, your truth, your opinion. The response to someone sharing their answer should be another question or “say more!”
Great questions demonstrate humility. Asking great questions says, “I don’t have all the answers! I need to connect with you.” Great questions are at the heart of St. Francis’ prayer, especially the line, “To be understood as to understand.”
The opposite of great questions is certainty. Certainty thinks it knows THE answer and always gives the same answer, the right answer. Certainty is locked into black and white. Certainty fosters ruts, creates tunnel vision, stifles wonder and turns off curiosity. Certainty stunts growth and learning. Certainty is the sign of an uneducated mind.
Great questions lead to transformation. Great questions create new ways of thinking and foster possibility thinking. Great questions are at the root of science as well as spirituality. For me, the most important quality of the Bible is not answers, but the questions it generates! For me, the Bible does not end with a period, but with a comma or a question mark. Questions are the fuel for the journey called life.
While it may seem technology and artificial intelligence are taking over our lives, the one fail of technology and artificial intelligence is the ability to ask to great questions. That is our work!
The root of being human is questions. If you are not asking great questions then you are a human doing!
Since 1996, David Carr has amassed over 20,000 hours collaborating with over 1,500 leaders and teams from organizations like P&G, the EPA, University of North Carolina, Western North Carolina Conference of United Methodist Churches plus many others, to help them to learn, to live and to promote “seizing the day” leading to reduced ignorance and suffering and enhanced living! He and his wife, Terri, live in Asheville, NC. Learn more at carrpediem.com