The Power of Questions
Many consultants I work with believe that their power to influence lies in their ability to persuade and their ability to persuade lies in their ability to explain. They imagine themselves at the head of a boardroom table giving an excellent presentation to a group of senior executives, standing back and basking in the deserved adulation and praise. But the most experienced and best consultants – the most persuasive people- understand that their power does not reside in their ability to explain. It lies in their ability to ask the right questions.
Especially in client management, asking questions is one of the most powerful mechanism for controlling the situation and its outcome and convincing the client of your expertise.
There are several reasons for this:
- Asking questions at its most basic level, gives you the opportunity to find answers, the right answers. Many people are keen to leap in to the answer before they’ve done the work to develop a deep enough understanding to be able to give the right the advice, in short before they’ve asked the right questions. They are keen to show off what they know already but consequently, in doing so they often demonstrate how little rather than how much they know. So put simply, asking questions enables you to get closer to the right answers the right solutions.
- Asking questions is also important because the people you’re asking probably enjoy listening to themselves speak. I am yet to meet a senior executive who did not, to a certain extent, like the sound of their own voice. As the president of a company I have firsthand experience of this and I much prefer conversations with my vendors that give me an opportunity to express my feeling and voice my opinion rather than those where my vendors talk relentlessly at me. So the point here is that asking questions gives senior executives the opportunity to do the thing they most enjoy, which is talking about themselves.
I have run thousands of interactions with clients and prospective client and I have found that those in which the client spoke more than 50% of the time were considerably more positive than those in which the client spoke less than 50%. Even – in fact especially - meetings which are billed as major presentations go better where the client is asked questions and does most of the speaking. Presenters tend to bore and presentations tend to be boring. So, unless you know you are a scintillating speaker able to engage a room in silent admiration for 60 minutes, why put the pressure on yourself? A conversation I much easier and will be a lot more fun.
- Thirdly considering the power dynamic of a meeting, asking questions is a great mechanism for controlling the flow and direction of the conversation. It has been said that ‘he who controls the agenda, controls the meeting’ and the same could be said for questions: he who controls the questions, controls the conversation. Champion tennis players stand close to the net and do very little work as they angle their racquet to simply push the ball in one direction or another, while less experienced players run frantically from one end of the court to the other, trying to keep up. In exactly the same way, experienced consultants use questions to keep the conversations moving at their pace and to angle the conversation in the direction they want it to go in.
So here then are three ways in which asking questions can be a more effective tool than simply giving answers or offering solutions. Firstly it gives a genuine opportunity to learn. Secondly it puts less pressure on the ‘presenter’ and is more enjoyable for the recipient. Thirdly, most crucially, questions control the direction, flow and pace or a conversation.