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How to ask good questions

The Little Known Skill Of Conversations

The Little Known Skill Of Conversations

Asking good, effective questions is a powerful but little known tool to get the most helpful information, facilitate learning and improve interpersonal bonding.

In many cases, asking the right questions depends on complex dynamics and type of interaction, but there are some general guidelines that can commonly be applied to the conversation.

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How to ask good questions

How to ask good questions

https://nesslabs.com/good-questions

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The Little Known Skill Of Conversations

Asking good, effective questions is a powerful but little known tool to get the most helpful information, facilitate learning and improve interpersonal bonding.

In many cases, asking the right questions depends on complex dynamics and type of interaction, but there are some general guidelines that can commonly be applied to the conversation.

Knowing Why You Communicate

If you are distracted during a conversation or are asking ‘filler’ questions, the other person will lose interest.

Be genuinely interested and frame questions that help gather maximum facts and opinions about your interlocutor.

Number 1 Communication Rule: Listen First

Being a good listener is timeless advice, and it has been eighty years since Dale Carnegie mentioned being a good listener in his classic ‘How To Win Friends And Influence People’.

The advice is still rock solid, telling us to listen with intent while asking interesting questions that the other person would love to answer.

Interrupting With Care

We often interrupt an ongoing conversation and say what comes in our mind, and have to be mindful of that.

Statements can also be detrimental to our purpose of building a relationship. It is better to end the sentence with a question and let the other person speak.

Choosing The Right Words

Works are like keys that can lock or unlock minds. Use a neutral tone combined with the right words, avoiding conflicting or loaded ones.

It is also a good idea to keep the questions open-ended. Closed-ended questions often sound loaded or biased to the interlocutor.

Build On The Information

Random questions should be avoided, and a hierarchy should be built that follows general questions with specific ones while asking only one thing at a time.

It helps to use the new information that you get from an answer to frame your next question, creating a natural flow.

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Stressful Conversations
Stressful Conversations

Human beings love to gossip, chatter and jest, but some conversations can be stressful, confusing, and even embarrassing. To avoid conflicts and the avoidable pain it can bring, we tend to dodge a ...

The Three Basic Stress-Inducing Conversations
  • While giving bad news to others, like giving feedback or firing someone, one can find it difficult to strike the right note.
  • When a small sentence or even a word can be taken as a negative provocation and trigger an adverse reaction. Suddenly the conversation becomes intensely charged emotionally.
  • A conversation where one resorts to profanity, manipulation, shouting to thwart the other person.
Preparing For A Stressful Conversation
  1. Be fully aware of one’s own vulnerabilities and shortcomings.
  2. Anticipate any specific problem that may occur, and try to rehearse it if possible.
  3. Understand that words are key that can make or break your conversation, and try to fine-tune and neutralize your phrasing.

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Connecting with an audience through a screen
Connecting with an audience through a screen

Most of us have switched to working primarily online since March, and the initial excitement of virtual happy hours is long gone.

When having a video conference, keep in mi...

Sharing stories

Connect with your audience from the start by sharing a relevant story and asking for their participation.

Choose a story that is more personal than you would tell in a regular work setting. The barriers between work and life are coming down and you can use that to your advantage.

Large vs smal online audience
  • If the group is small, ask a question from the start and turn your presentation into a conversation.
  • If the audience is large, bring audience members together through polls, “raised hands” in response to yes-or-no questions, and the chatbox.

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Clarify the question

Make sure you're not assuming what you're being asked and take the  time to really understand the question.

Insert parts of the question in your answers, but never repeat the negative la...

Take thinking time

When you're faced with difficult questions, make sure you buy yourself enough time to determine how you want to respond.

Repeating of rephrasing the question could give you some extra time for thinking about how you want to answer.

Answer part of the question

Find a part of the question you are comfortable answering if answering the whole question is not an option.

This may sometimes be enough to satisfy the other person.

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Being “too nice” can cause you problems
Being “too nice” can cause you problems

You're asked to do something, and you feel you should say no. However, if you say no, you'll be resented, so you are tempted to say yes. If you say yes, you're going to be frustrated wi...

Saying NO without guilt
  • Notice how often people around you say no to each other every day. Also watch how others handle these situations.
  • When you feel pressured for a yes, ask for time. It will allow you to calm down and evaluate whether you really want to do it ( "I need to check my calendar; I'll get back to you"/ "I've got to think about that; I'll let you know.")
  • Saying no comfortably requires you to think what your values are. When you live by clear principles, it's easier to make decisions. People are more likely to respect your responses.
  • Keep telling them that you can't help them. Then stay on repeat, even if they bring new angles of reasoning.
  • When you want to help but can't commit to the specifics, make a counteroffer. You can offer someone a different resource or the name of someone else who might help.
Being A Great Listener
  • Focus on what’s being said instead of how it affects you or what you want to say.
  • Put away your phone. It’s rude and multitasking takes away from comprehension.
Listening influences up to 40% of a leader’s job performance

Beyond the spoken words, the tone of voice, body language, and what isn’t said also convey valuable information.

But most people overrate their listening skills. 

Alfred Brendel
Alfred Brendel

“The word listen contains the same letters as the word silent.”

Putting your knowledge and skills in perspective
Putting your knowledge and skills in perspective

When you're feeling notably uncertain about a something, take the time perform an audit, in the objective terms possible.

Ask yourself: What is my knowledge base, and what are my pr...

Playing the part

Competency requires practice. It doesn't get easier overnight.

Playing the part doesn't mean to just fake it, even if there are some benefits to that, too. Instead, by diving in and doing the work even if you don’t feel 100% prepared, your skillset will start to improve as you get more practice.

Clarifying questions in uncertain situations

When you’re really unsure, asking questions may be last thing you'd want to do, because it could feel like turning on a spotlight when all you want to do is go unnoticed. But masking uncertainty tends to amplify it.

In many situations, questions are an important tool: the more comfortable you get asking for clarification or help, the smoother the path is down the road.

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Be direct

When having a difficult conversation, be direct and get to the point quickly.

Difficult conversations become even more difficult when the delivery...

Be specific

The more clarity you can provide, the better the critique will be received during a difficult conversation.

Be honest and thorough with your feedback, and fully clarify why you're having the conversation. Offer as many concrete examples as possible so the person understands you're not just pulling things out of thin air. 

Plan out the conversation
Prepar for a difficut conversation in advance: think of what you’re going to say, as well as anticipate how the other person might react

The more prepared you are, the easier it will be to stay even tempered and not get flustered, and therefore deliver a more solid critique.

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Albert Einstein

"It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education. "

Albert Einstein
Curiosity declines with age

Children are extremely curious. They keep asking, "why?" and explore new things just because they want to know.

But research shows that during the schooling years, curiosity steadily declines, and as adults, we fall into fixed and convenient thought patterns.

The mechanics of curiosity

Research around curiosity found that children at age 5 scored 98% on a creativity test. When the same children took the test at age 10, only 30% scored well on the test. By age 15, only 12% of the same children did well. Less than 2% of adults are defined as creative based on their answer to this standardised test.

Science suggests this decrease in curiosity could be caused when we feel there's no gap between what we know and what we want to know, so we just stop being curious.

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