04/12/2016 02:29 EDT | Updated 04/13/2017 05:12 EDT

Are You Asking The Right Questions?

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It's amazing what you can learn and understand by listening more and talking less.

A child will ask "Why?" dozens of times. Why is the sky blue? Why do dogs bark? Why can't I go outside? The parent then, often, gives a long and sometimes exhaustive answer to which the child follows up with one word, "Why?"

We can learn more, and build relationships with clients and colleagues by asking questions, as long as they are the right questions. One of the reasons top reporters and interviewers are so successful is that they ask very few questions of their subject and they are actively listening for information, knowledge and clarity, with the goal of educating, informing and / or entertaining. They have also prepared the flow of the questions to move from a beginning to a conclusion. The next time you're watching your favourite news, information or entertainment program count the number of questions the feature interviewer actually asks. You'll probably hear three-five questions with one or two probing or follow-up questions.

Another example of this is the standard job interview. The typical interview lasts one hour and can have as few as four questions to get to the skill, ability and personality of the candidate. Why are you interested in this position? How have you successfully...? Give us an example of when...? What challenges...? The savvy interviewer will then probe deeper into the answers. Can you explain further...? How, specifically...? What were the challenges you faced when...? At the end of the interview there is enough information exchanged to make decisions about next steps and whether the candidate might be their next employee.

When you need information or want to build a relationship with a client, colleague, team member, manager or stakeholder, it is really all about the questions you ask, how much you let the other person talk and how you listen.

Getting back to basics with the five Ws work best when you are gathering information, learning and building rapport. Project work for clients, partners and colleagues might include questions like this:

  • Who are they (brand values and essence? Who do they want to reach (audience)? Who do they aspire to be? Who inspires them? Who's doing what they want to do?
  • What do they do/ need / want / aspire to / believe in? What does success look like? What is important to them? What do they value? What is the budget?
  • When do they need it? When are the milestone moments or key required dates or timelines? When are they most at ease / feel informed / feel left out?
  • Where are they currently and where do they need to be? Where are the issues / concerns / opportunities / risks? Where did they come from?
  • Why do they need you, your solutions, your competencies? Why this, now?

Try to stick with open questions and avoid closed questions that can only be answered with yes, or no. Those questions typically start with "Can you", "Will you", "Would you". Yes or no may not give you details that you often need and you will find yourself asking more questions in the hope that you get the information that you are seeking.

So, when you find yourself needing information or want to have a conversation where it's all about the other person, take some time to prepare your questions and see if those questions will get you to where you need to be and what you need to know.

Yes, there will be more questions that need asking as you work through the process but if you ask the right question, seek shared understanding and really listen, you can build effective and meaningful relationships.

Judy Mann is a consultant | advisor with Judy Mann Communications. She offers internal and external Communications and PR services as well as specialized group and individual sessions and workshops on increasing interpersonal communications effectiveness, relationship building, public speaking and presentation style and delivery.

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