How To Ask Questions

I’ve always been inquisitive, which has won me friends, who’ve been flattered by my interest, and annoyed others, who found it invasive. I’ve been working to figure out how to ask better questions, questions for which I’ll get interesting, surprising answers. Answers which teach me something, advance a story, reveal someone’s interests, or simply help me get to know someone better.I try to learn every day how to ask better questions and here are few things I have learnt.

inquire, don’t interrogate

The same question can sound like an attack or an invitation – it’s all about tone. And I am shocked by how much of a difference a smile makes when asking a question you know someone doesn’t want to answer.

don’t underestimate the power of surprise

Ask a question that’s out of left field. People are often so surprised, they’ll answer frankly and honestly, before they have a chance to think to go with the prepared babble that’s oh-so predictable and dull.

*really* listen

If I get through a list of questions I’ve prepared, it’s a sure sign that I’m not paying enough attention. What’s infinitely better is reacting specifically to what’s being said.

don’t “ask” with a statement – just get to the point already

Everyone has been at those Q&A sessions where someone inevitably stands up and “asks” a long, rambling question designed to demonstrate his own knowledge rather than seek to gain knowledge from the expert. It’s a waste of everyone’s time. An incisive question can itself imply the knowledge – if you’ve done your homework, it’ll be obvious, you don’t need to spell it out.

ask both the questions people are eager to answer, and those they’re absolutely not

I love to hear people talk about the stuff they’re most excited about – their eyes light up, they gesticulate and lean in. On the other end of the spectrum, don’t be dissuaded from asking about stuff people don’t want to discuss. Even if you know they won’t answer it, it’s worth trying. If I don’t get an answer, I’ll just keep trying by asking smaller pieces of the same question.

break up big questions into little bites

If you ask big, sweeping questions, you may get long, rambling answers, break it into something more manageable, A bunch of specific questions might be useful to help people build with concrete answers before they get to a big question.