As a CEO you must learn to question everything…even the answers to your own questions. Never settle for anything other than a solid answer that meets your needs. Regrettably, many CEOs feel that if they are doing all the talking then they must not be in control of their environment. It is those same CEOs who also tend to believe that the people they are talking to must be listening…rarely is either of the aforementioned assumptions correct. If you find yourself doing most of the talking in meetings and presentations here’s a tip…Stop immediately! Few things in business are as irritating as those individuals who take the floor and don’t know when to give it up. It is my strongest suggestion that you leave the pontificating and filibustering to politicians, and learn to be more effective by learning the art of asking effective questions. In today’s post I’ll share with you the 5 keys to asking great questions.

You have all heard the old saying that God gave us two ears and only one mouth because we were intended to do twice as much listening as talking. Oh, how true that saying is, but too many executives, entrepreneurs, and sales people just love to hear themselves speak. The reality is that many professionals either don’t know how to advance a discussion, are afraid of what might happen in the event of a poignant pause, or simply don’t know how to ask the right question.

So why are questions so important? If you want to establish a relationship with someone, or advance a cause, you must first seek to understand what’s going on in the other person’s world. Questions allow you to direct the conversation, redirect the flow of a conversation, elicit critical information, and show that you care about what the other person is thinking. The following 5 tips will allow you to ask effective questions that will improve your productivity by converting you from a blowhard into a skilled communicator:

  1. Be sincere in your questioning…Forget about what’s in it for you and think about how you can help the person you’re communicating with. Do not manipulate, control, or lead the other person, but make an honest effort to find out how you can help them achieve their objectives. This approach oddly enough will lead you closer to fulfilling your own objectives.
  2. Don’t ask questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no. Use questions that begin with who, what, where, when, why or how in an attempt to enable dialoging. If the other person is doing all the sharing of information, you will find yourself in the enviable position of being able to assess, evaluate, and synthesize the information being shared. While the other party is talking…you are learning.
  3. Avoid obvious questions that if prepared or competent you should already have the answer to. Rather ask questions that are insightful such that they require thought to be answered.
  4. Use questions that encourage the other person to reveal their thoughts and emotions. These questions will help you truly get to know the other party and to build common ground and rapport. If you can move beyond the analytical to the emotional, the other party is much more likely to reveal their bias or agenda.
  5. Ask questions that reveal your subject matter expertise and that demonstrate your ability to provide meaningful solutions. These questions should engender credibility and therefore provide the other party with confidence that you can handle the situation in a manner that is in alignment with their best interests. Force people to move beyond surface level discussions by taking them past their comfort zones with intelligent questioning. Never settle for the general, ambiguous, vague, or standard answer. Continue probing until you are satisfied with the answer.

If you want to become a great communicator master the art of skillful questioning. Work on developing a list of well thought out questions that are situational, industry specific, product specific, market specific, positionally specific, etc., and use them to put you in a position to help others…