“Give me the script,” people often say. “What kinds of questions should I ask, in what order?”
Well, that’s kind of hard. Asking great questions is like being live at the improv. You have a sense for what you’re going for, but you read the crowd to see what’s going to work.
Here’s what you can look for as you adjust your questioning strategy:
Who is this person?
– Are they super-talkative? If so, you might want to use closed-ended questions to avoid long-winded responses. You’ll also have to prioritize your questions or they will run out the clock on your meeting.
– Are they more reserved? If so, you will probably want to use open-ended questions and allow for generous silence. Yes, I know you hate silence. Be patient and wait anyway.
What’s the context?
– If you’re in a group, especially a group that doesn’t know each other well, you may want to lead with fact-finding questions. Normal people hesitate to reveal too much in a group of strangers.
– If you’re one on one, you often have the freedom to ask more feeling-finding questions.
Where does this person live?
– If they live in their heads (aka they’re task-oriented), turn down the emotive language even when you’re asking about their tiny, little feelings. A hard-charging executive may squirm if you ask what they’re afraid of (“I’m not afraid of anything!”), but you can probably ask them what concerns them.
– If they live in their hearts (aka they’re emotive), you can use the full palette of feeling words. If you have no idea what I mean by that, click here to get The Therapist’s Feeling Word Cheat Sheet.
Pros know to adjust to their audience and circumstances. They’re skilled enough at using every question in their toolkit that they can find the right one to open up the other person. It’s one more way they use listening to show others they have their back.