After reading the title of this blog, you may be asking yourself a great question. “When I think of myself as a professional communicator, what does this topic have to do with anything?” Well, let me tell you.
In my years of practical experience, academics, and consulting at Braintrust, my observation is that the concept of asking great questions is woefully undertrained, understood, and under-practiced. I can further illustrate this point by directing you to a course that CEO/Founder of Braintrust, Jeff Bloomfield, has completed on behalf of LinkedIn Learning.
Of the numerous courses Jeff has created at LinkedIn, the number one course in both views (over 60,000) and comments is “Asking Great Sales Questions.” As the COVID-19 Pandemic hit, LinkedIn/Microsoft committed to providing free educational resources for the over 40M people that found themselves without employment. They selected their “Top 10” based on content, impact, application, and overall value add. “Asking Great Sales Questions” was selected for this list and is still available if you are interested. Click here
Asking great questions is a skill that takes knowledge, resources, and practice. We use questions every day and for some professions, it separates the good from the great. Professions such as lawyers, TV hosts, sales professionals, doctors, and school counselors emerge in that conversation. When you look at these professions though, you will begin to realize that each asks questions to accomplish a different goal.
For example, lawyers are trained to ask questions that may be deemed more interrogative to get information that the lawyer cares about to prove or disprove their position. If you remember the great speech from the classic play and movie, “A Few Good Men”, Tom Cruise plays the part of Lt. Junior Grade Daniel Kaffee, and the legendary Jack Nicholson plays Colonel Nathan R. Jessup. To illustrate my point, recall this famous courtroom scene.
Kaffee: Colonel Jessup! Did you order the code red?!
Judge Randolph: You don’t have to answer that question!
Jessup: I’ll answer the question. You want answers?
Kaffee: I think I’m entitled to it!
Jessup: You want the answers?!
Kaffee: I Want the Truth!!
Jessup: You can’t handle the truth! [The truth then comes out]
Now contrast this with an example of a medical show on TV. Check out this final scene from ER that took place in 2009. You will observe that the mindset, actions, and questions in this scene are focused on serving the injured patients coming into the ER. As I side note, A Few Good Men and ER are great programs to binge-watch the next time you are looking for classic entertainment.
Now, I would like to clarify that both types of questioning approaches work, are needed, and serve a purpose. The critical difference is that the “lawyer courtroom approach” is focused on eliciting information that serves the lawyer’s agenda where the “doctor consultative approach” is focused on eliciting information that serves the patient.
As a professional communicator, ask yourself another question. Thinking back over your last ten customer conversations… Are you the lawyer or are you the doctor?
Here are three quick practical tips for beginner “Hot Questions”:
- Prepare your questions in advance by understanding your customer’s story
- Determine if your questions are self-serving or other-person serving?
- Do your research and practice your questions consistently
“Hot One’s” is a phenomenal YouTube show hosted by Sean Evans where he interviews famous individuals while they eat hot wings. In his opening, Sean starts by saying, “It’s the show with Hot Questions and even Hotter Wings.” As the interview progresses, you will observe something fascinating. Seth has a gift for asking questions that open up his guests to not only compliment him on his questions, but they then offer information that other hosts simply don’t get. There is no doubt that Sean practices the “Hot Questions” approach to his interviews. Sean and his staff do a tremendous amount of research, and he knows their story. He then asks questions that seeks information that allows him to continue to build the relationship. In the end, the hot wings don’t hurt either! (I want to give a disclaimer that if you join the MILLIONS of people who check out his YouTube interviews, the language is adult in nature.)
We will dig even more in-depth on what it means to ask provocative and insightful questions in future blogs. Best luck asking “Hot Questions” and don’t forget the wings!