Many leaders pride themselves on their ability to listen. But to listen well, you must do more than concentrate on what you hear: You need to ask smart questions.
Your timing, voice tone and word choice largely shape the effectiveness of your inquiries. Follow these steps to extract more information through probing:
- Keep it short. Stick to one-sentence questions. This gives the respondent more time to speak and increases the odds you’ll elicit a more revealing answer.
- Hide your bias. If you hint at the answer you want or expect, your fishing expedition can limit what you learn. For example, replace, “Isn’t that report terrible?” with “What do you think of that report?”
- Interrupt with quick questions. Seek clarification. Ask, “Can you repeat that?” or “Can you give an example?”
While interrupting can work against you in certain situations, it’s appropriate if you want to indicate that you’re intent on understanding the message. Politely cutting off a speaker to ensure you accurately capture what’s said signals that you’re serious about listening.
- Reject evasion. Savvy questioners harness the power of directness. They do not accept evasive answers; instead, they repeat their questions in an earnest, non-accusatory tone.
- Run a test. To test whether you followed the speaker’s answer, paraphrase it. Say, “Just to make sure I understood what you said …”
By restating answers in your own words, you reassure others that you listened. Better yet, they might add details or plug holes in their initial explanation that clarify what they think or feel.
— Adapted from “The One Conversational Tool That Will Make You Better at Absolutely Everything,” Shane Snow.