Andrew Sobel, who co-authored the book “Power Questions: Build Relationships, Win Business and Influence Others” with Jerold Panas, feels that knowing how to ask the right questions is critical for success in business. According to Sobel, the ability to ask the right questions can distinguish someone from co-workers and other job applicants as a person who thinks genuinely about the task at hand. Asking meaningful questions can also sway private clients into making a hiring decision.
In his new book, Sobel claims that people too often ask questions that betray their ignorance or they don’t stop talking until they have answered their question. To avoid this, employees, contractors and job applicants can try to devise a handful of meaningful questions before each meeting.
Sobel suggests that thoughtful questions allow two people to form a connection that otherwise may not have been formed. However, this can be a delicate balancing act as business people strive for the perfect combination between a question that shows interest in the other person and one that is too personal. Generally speaking, people in the business world should focus questions on asking what the other person thinks about the process at hand and not something about that person individually.
Perhaps more important than learning to ask the right questions is the ability to sit back and listen to the answer. The person who asked the question can show that he or she is engaged as a listener by leaning forward, nodding at appropriate times and never interrupting. These actions will make the speaker feel respected, and in turn, he or she will form an opinion about the person who asked the question as someone who is trustworthy.
The following examples will provide business people with suggestions on how to ask questions and how to listen in specific situations.
An Encounter with the CEO
Even if being in the presence of the company CEO is nerve-wracking, employees should take the opportunity to ask intelligent questions. This shows the CEO that the employee cares about the direction the company is moving and his or her contribution to its success. Open-ended questions, such as “Which of our current company initiatives are you most excited about?” invite far more conversation than questions that require only a yes or no response. One thing to stay away from in conversations with the CEO is questions about the company’s finances.
Many people dread that part of the job interview when the company recruiter asks “So, do you have any questions?” To be considered a serious job candidate, this opportunity should never be allowed to pass. If possible, the job applicant should phrase questions in such a way that it highlights his or her experience. A good example of this would be, “I dealt with very similar challenges in my last position. What additional skills would be helpful in handling challenges in this job?”
Redirecting an Awkward Situation
A junior account executive was up all night pulling together the necessary figures to present to management. When the time came to present his or her findings, the junior executive’s lack of sleep caused him or her to quote the wrong report. Everyone in the room knew the information was wrong and the person presenting the findings could feel the heat creeping up his or her face. Rather than stumble and give in to momentary embarrassment in a situation like this, Sobel suggests owning the error and redirecting the conversation immediately. One suggestion for doing this is to say “I can see I have presented the wrong figures for this meeting. Does anyone mind if I begin again?”