“Oh, excuse me – may I ask just one more thing?”
Peter Falk, as TV detective Columbo, was famous for his casual turn around as he left the room before asking the key question. His nonchalant attitude took the suspect off guard and usually triggered a most revealing response.
My Dad was a master at asking questions. He was able to unpeel business, faith, financial, and relationship onions by moving from one query to another – never offering advice. In his later years I asked him about this strength. “How do you open conversations with people?” “You ask them a question they want to answer.” Thinking there would be a simple follow-up I asked, “How do you know what that is?” “You just do.” This exchange taught me something critical about the process: there is an art and a science to questioning.
My friend Bob Tiede collects excellent, effective questions – and those who ask them. His blog www.leadingwithquestions.com features outstanding writers and recommendations for asking powerful questions. Each post points out the necessity for putting this skill into your toolbox.
Listening is a critical leadership element. What is the best way to create a listening environment? Asking questions. My Mom accompanied my Dad to many business dinners, often seated next to the host or another high-powered executive. On one occasion the host apologized to my Dad saying, “I am so sorry for placing Mary Alice next to Mr. X. He is a tough nut and he will make her miserable.” “No, you watch tonight and see what happens.” Soon, my Mom and this man were engaged in conversation. The host was stunned. “How did she do that?” “She asked him questions about himself and she truly was interested in the answers.”
What is your favorite ice-breaking question? What is your favorite family question? What is your favorite decision-making question? What is your favorite self-evaluation question?
As we learn the art and science of questioning, we will develop our increase our effectiveness in business, church, community, and relationships. And I leave you with two of my favorites: When do you feel most alive? When do you feel God’s pleasure?