You’re in a meeting with someone who matters to your work. They speak passionately about a topic, but your mind says, “huh? I don’t get it.”

Rather than shut down, take this as a cue. Be ready with questions that get at their motives. That’s what really matters. It’s the thing behind the thing.

Here are three proven questions to cut through the noise and get to the underlying motives:

  • “This topic is obviously really important to you. Can you tell me what makes you so passionate?”
    This is the direct approach to discovering motives. You’re peeling the onion, ready to say, “tell me more” as they disclose.
  • “If you could achieve one thing out of this situation we’re discussing, what would it be? Why is that so important to you?”
    This is the back door to motives through the discovery of their desired results. It’s a task-oriented way to peel the onion.
  • “What is the one thing you really want to avoid from this situation? Why does that concern matter to you so much?”
    This is the back door to motives through feelings and concerns.

Yes, listening involves shutting up. But a well-placed question can get you to a whole new level of understanding.

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