One of the things that I’ve always seen as a differentiator between good and great teams is their willingness and courage to ask questions that go beyond the usual surface level stuff.
The first part of this is the willingness to dive deep into a question and it’s subsequent answer with more questions. When speaking to a client, the questions you ask will often get you some surface level answers – some of which even seem like they are the full answer to your question. What separates a good team from a great one though is the ability to ask follow-up questions that really dig into the information you glean from the first question and get to what’s really on your client’s mind. This is why a good doctor will spend more time asking questions than writing prescriptions for treatment. Dive three or four layers into the initial question, and you’ll find answers that will lead you to the root causes of your client’s problem, not just the symptoms they can see.
The second part of being a real questioner is to ask questions with intention. You don’t have a script of what questions you want to ask, but you have an idea of the problems you want to address with them and are willing to jump right to the hard questions when it’s appropriate. Many people spend 10, 15, or even 20 minutes “warming up” the meeting with basic information questions that you can usually get from prior research on your own. Today’s business climate is going to have the other side of the table checking their email and phones before you’re done warming the room up at that pace. Say hello, and get your pleasantries done as quickly as you feel necessary. Then, get right into solving their problem. Show them how you can help as quickly as you can.
The final ingredient is courage. These are often going to be questions that will lead to uncomfortable answers for your client. Be courageous enough to ask them anyway, and be supportive enough that they know the answers will only benefit them long term. We are taught from an early age to not offend or bother people with tough questions, but if you want to bring the best value to your clients, you’ll have to set yourself apart by your willingness to do so. Courage and transparency are the two sides of the interaction that have to match up for real success.
Master these skills and you’ll find yourself a real master of asking questions – and getting the answers you need to be successful.