Questions are like diamonds — they are extremely valuable and can be used in many different ways. While we mostly think of diamonds in jewelry, most people think of questions as a way to gain understanding or solve problems. But like diamonds, which have many industrial and other non-jewelry uses, questions have many other uses too. I want to use the remainder of the space I have here to talk about some uses we haven’t discussed much yet this month.
Questions to generate conversation. A monologue isn’t a conversation. Too often as a leader we do too much of the talking! One of the ways to help us avoid this is to ask more and assert less. You can’t learn the perspectives of others by talking. The best way to generate a conversation or dialogue with a group or an individual is to ask a question, shut up and listen.
When did you last do that?
Questions to promote engagement. Engagement seems to be the Holy Grail in the business world these days — everyone wants to engage people more and create a more engaged workplace. It is a worthy goal and isn’t always as hard as consultants, speakers and authors like me make it sound. When you listen to people, and care about them and their ideas, they are more engaged. Questions play a big role in that process.
What are you doing to engage your team more today?
Questions to stay present. Often people tell me they have trouble listening because their minds wander on to a new topic or a new idea. They lament that they’ve already gotten the point of the speaker and they are ready to move on. While this may or may not be true, true listening is more about being able to parrot back what someone said. Stay engaged by asking a question. Be curious enough to want to learn more. This action will keep you in the present moment with that person, not on a mental vacation or side trip.
When did you last ask a question to stay focused on the other person?
Questions to build relationship. All of the things I have already written about will have a positive impact on your relationships with others. This is important to remember because often questions help us in several ways at once. Think about a time you were in a conversation with someone who wanted to know more about you and asked you to tell them more — whether it was a work-related situation or not. How do you feel about that person? Do you want to spend more time with them — even if you haven’t learned much about them yet because they deflected the conversation back to you? We all want to have the chance to tell our story. When we ask others about themselves, their passions, their families and more, we build relationships. Many have said that the conversation is the relationship — and as we have already seen, questions help us start that conversation.
When (and with whom) did you last use a question to build a relationship with someone?
Questions to learn. Have you ever noticed that nearly everything I write ties to the topic of learning? Questions allow our curiosity to be satisfied. Questions open our minds. Questions help us learn. We all teach our kids that. We all encourage our team members to ask questions in a meeting if they don’t understand. Yet how often do you do this yourself?
When did you last ask questions from the place of pure curiosity and love of learning?
And as you know this is far from a complete list of uses.
But in another way, questions aren’t like diamonds at all. If someone handed you a diamond, whatever its size, you would put it in a safe place and treasure it. You can’t go out and make a new diamond — and while the supply is larger than most people realize, there is a finite number of diamonds.
Questions are not finite in supply.
The same questions can be used and used and used — they will never wear out. And new questions, applied in new ways are as limitless as your imagination.
What question will you ask next?