Ask and Ye Shall Receive

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8-6 question
Asking the right questions helps drill down into the client’s real issues, ensuring that solutions tackle the real problem rather than superficial symptoms.

Everyone knows that consultants are engaged to leverage their expertise, to get answers to questions, and to solve problems. In this context, a consultant had better show his or her skills by providing authoritative, expert advice. However, the most important maturity stage for a consultant is when he or she realizes that posing a good question is as important as having good answers. It was Voltaire, the French philosopher, who said that one should be judged by your questions and not by your answers. Consider these types of questions:

  • Close-ended – requires few words to respond, usually just ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
  • Open-ended – requires a lengthier response, perhaps descriptive in nature.
  • High-gain – requires thinking before responding; forces evaluation, speculation, and expression of feelings. This type of question allows for more flexibility in answering and an opportunity to create a more meaningful interaction, to provide insight, to expose issues, and to cultivate more respect for the questioner

Here are some key questions that work, most of the time:

  • What needs to change? What needs to increase? What needs to decrease?
  • What are the consequences? What will not be achieved?
  • What are the payoffs? What would be the primary and secondary benefits?

When you are running a facilitation session with a client, use questions to prompt a subject, to learn, to challenge, to clarify, to channel thinking in a specific direction, and to bring things to focus. Then, listen intensively; listening is a question in its own right as the silence and expectation of the listener demand more details. Respond to the client’s questions with playback, and challenge or redirect questions. Sometimes, you can even respond to questions with questions. You can ask, “Why do think that is? Are you saying that…? Interesting, can you expand on that?”

Knowing how to ask a good question is a real asset for consultants. With questions you enhance the ownership of any solution you eventually offer, turning it into a shared creation and guaranteeing strong buy-in.