Good communication skills involve being skilled in the essential skill of asking questions. Your ability to do this will create a more positive relationship with anyone! Asking, instead of telling, is a communication skill that offers many benefits:
Effective asking can enhance your credibility. In other people's minds, asking questions about a topic makes you appear more knowledgeable than others who just talk about it.
Effective asking can make the other person feel comfortable. Most human beings prefer talking to listening to such an extent that, given the choice, that is what we do. We all like the feeling of being listened to.
Effective asking can reveal what is important to the other party, what their concerns are, and even what terminology will make them feel comfortable with you.
Effective asking can cause the other person to think about what you want them to think about. If you think your idea is right for them, instead of telling, you can cause the other person to think about it by asking the right questions. You can even help the other party visualize it and come to the right conclusion on their own.
Effective asking also keeps you in control of the pace and direction of the interaction. Most people are pre-programmed to answer questions. Decades of experience with parents and teachers have taught us that when we are asked a question we should answer it. All the time you are asking questions you are in control of both the pace and direction of the meeting, even though the other person is doing most of the talking, because he or she is talking about what you have just asked them.
Effective asking can gently signal that you disagree. When disagreeing straightforwardly, a defensive reaction can be triggered. Instead of finding out why you disagree or even listening to you explain why you disagree, the other party's thoughts go into overdrive as they try to work out why you disagree and what they can say to persuade you. A carefully placed question, however, will not only signal that you are not actually agreeing but will cause the other party to think through their proposal and maybe see the very reason why you cannot agree.
Effective asking can provide valuable think time. Most of us speak at about 120 - 160 words per minute. We think much faster than that (about 700 words per minute). You may have noticed that when another person is speaking, you have plenty of time to formulate your thoughts.
Effective asking does not come naturally to any of us. Even people who are skilled at asking questions are frequently doing so to check their own thinking rather than exploring the other person's perspective.
In discussions, ask open-ended questions that encourage others to talk openly, rather than closed questions that result in yes or no answers. Resist the temptation to do all the thinking. Questions encourage others to use their critical thinking skills to find creative solutions to their goals and problems.
Closed questions invite a simple answer (often a yes or no response). They are useful for checking understanding. However, when overdone, closed questions can prompt the other person to deduce that you are more interested in what you are thinking rather than what he or she is thinking or that you are trying to sell him or her something.
Open questions make a person feel that you are interested in their thoughts and they tend to participate and cooperate more.
Examples of good open-ended questions include:
Can you give me more specific detail?
Can you give me an example?
What were your reasons for?
What were the circumstances surrounding?
Help me understand what you mean.
Walk me through your idea.
Tell me more.
What bothers you about this?
Why is this important to you?
Please tell me how this affects you.
What other points of concern do you have?
What would help to take the pressure off?
Opening up how we approach questions is key in our communication. The next time you are ready to "tell" someone something, stop! Ask yourself is there a way I can "ask" around this rather than simply say it.
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