Master the art of asking

If you want to be an effective communicator, you need more than just communication skills: you need to have something meaningful to say. You can start by

1. Collecting good information, and

2. Taking the extra time and energy to make it relevant to others.

You can do both at once by learning to ask good questions. The benefit of collecting information this way is that you automatically get deeper context than you would ever get from other kinds of research; you learn what people really care about.

Questions can be broadly categorized into two types:

Open questions provoke dialogue. They begin with “What” “Who,” “Where,” “Why” or “How.” Open questions can never be answered “yes” or “no.” Examples:

“How do you go about doing this today?”

“What area do you see as needing the most improvement?”

“Who will make the final decision?”

“Where are the biggest problem areas?”

“Why hasn’t this been done before?”

Closed questions confirm your understanding or seek commitment. They begin with do, so, is, are, if, can will, would, should, or could. Closed questions can only be answered “yes” or “no.”

Examples of closed questions that confirm understanding:

“Do you find this acceptable?”

“So you think the situation is deteriorating, is that right?”

“Is this common?”

“Are you saying that these kinds of initiatives have failed in the past?”

Examples of closed questions that seek a commitment:

“If I guaranteed immediate delivery, would you buy today?”

“Can you think of a reason not to do this?”

“Will you decide by Tuesday?”

“Would you like this today?”

“Should we talk to your boss?”

“Could we call him now?”

Ask good questions, for good reasons.

Excerpted from Selling to the VP of NO by Dave Gray

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Dave Gray is the Founder of XPLANE and author of Selling to the VP of NO, The Connected Company and Gamestorming.

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