Excerpted from “Chapter Two” “Just Ask the Right Questions to Get What You Want” with the permission of the author – Professor Ian Cooper 

Maybe you may have asked an important question and received the answer … “I don’t know” as the answer

This can leave you frustrated in a ‘no-man’s land’ not knowing what to do next. Instead of simply giving up at this stage try a different question:

“I wonder if you can help me how to find out?”

A close relative of mine was in hospital recently and we were sitting by the bedside waiting for the doctors to do their rounds so we could find out what the next stage would be in his treatment and care. Eventually they came and we were told that it would have to be the Consultant Surgeon’s decision as to whether surgery was required and what exactly this would entail.

“He is going to visit you later today” we were told.

“Do you know when this will be?” I asked.

“No idea … just later … it could be anytime at all” was the response.

Having sat and waited another hour making polite but pointless small talk with my relative, I thought I’d have another go. This time I went to the Ward Sister and asked,“Do you know when the Consultant Surgeon is going to be on the ward?”

“I don’t know, she said … it could be anytime!” This is ridiculous I thought, here I am, a self-styled, so called ‘question master’ and I can’t even get a simple answer to a simple question. Then I thought I’d try a different approach so this time I asked a different question … a “how can I find out question?”

So I approached the Ward Sister again with a smile and said:  “Forgive me for being a pain, I know you have just told me you don’t know when the Consultant Surgeon will be coming in, but I wonder how we might find out about his plans for the day?”

Note, not only have I pre-framed the question with an apology trigger to make her more receptive, I have also used the “we” to make it her problem as well and shifted the focus of the question to ‘how’ we can find out.

“Well, I could speak to his secretary for you … she should know what he is doing.”

Five minutes later she came and told us: “I have spoken to his secretary, he has just left his last engagement and he is planning to be back on the Ward here at 3:45.”

Mission accomplished! Asking how you can find out is a powerful tool.

iancooper-head-shotProfessor Ian Cooper has been described as a ‘serial achiever’, London based, he is an international author of 15 books with in 55 countries and 13 languages, including the successful and influential ‘Financial Times Guide To Business Development’, recently shortlisted for the best management / business book of the year award. In addition to advising hundreds of businesses and organizations of all sizes for over 30 years, Ian is also a successful entrepreneur who has created and run a number of successful businesses. With approximately 1000 professional speaking engagements Ian has inspired thousands of businesses and individuals with his light and engaging style to improve their own performance, get better results and make things happen.  You can connect with Ian on his website.


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