15 Reasons To Ask Questions

Do you know that I ask a lot of questions? 🙂

And there’s nothing wrong with that, since I’m a salesperson in all ways, and this is still true: Telling ain’t selling!

The essence of effective selling, of course, is asking. And I don’t mean asking for the order—though that’s critical—I mean asking questions.

But this blog is not about selling. It’s about why we ask questions, no matter our role.

But first, a story:

In 1989, as a 31-year-old sales guy offering management training in the Twin Cities of Minnesota, I invited a Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper SVP to my office to explore his team’s training needs. As this fiftysomething, gray-haired exec stood at my flip chart diagraming his organizational structure so I could “probe for need”—I probed …

I don’t remember my question, but I’ll never forget his swift and intense reaction to a question I posed. He turned from the flip chart with great speed and swung his right arm toward me in dramatic fashion, pointed directly at my face, and exclaimed, “Now that is an outstanding question!”

Though I was seated at a conference table and only 5’ 6”—I felt ten feet tall!

My stature had risen in his eyes not because of something I had told him, but because of something I had asked him.

Yes, the question I asked that day helped me move the selling process forward, but let me be clear: The power and value of a good question has nothing to do with being a professional salesperson.

Asking questions is a skill required by people in all roles, job functions, and professions.

Why exactly do we ask questions? Well, here are 15 reasons to do so!

1. To acquire knowledge

2. To eliminate confusion

3. To cause someone else to feel special/important

4. To guide a conversation in the direction we want it to go

5. To demonstrate humility to another

6. To enable a person to discover answers for themselves

7. To gain empathy through better understanding another’s view

8. To influence/alter someone else’s opinion/view

9. To begin a relationship

10. To strengthen a relationship

11. To humbly show we have knowledge on a specific topic

12. To stimulate creativity and idea generation

13. To gain a person’s attention

14. To solve a problem

15. To reach agreement or to “agree to disagree” with clarity

So, there they are … 15 reasons to ask questions.

But wait!  To understand why we DO ask questions, it’s good to explore the reasons why we DO NOT ask questions. Here are six:

1. To find a culprit

2. To embarrass and shame

3. To appear superior

4. To create fear

5. To manipulate

6. To play the victim, as in, “Why is this happening to me?” (See QBQ! book)

So, let’s discuss:

Which one (or ones) on our list of 15 surprise you?

Are there some on that list you want to accomplish more often? Share!

Can you add one or two to our 15?

NOTE: No adding stuff like, “enhances communication,” “builds teamwork,” or “to coach.” When we accomplish many of the 15 on our list, those goals will be achieved.

Lastly, can you add to the list of 6 reasons we DO NOT ask questions?

Okay, comment away!

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10 Responses

  1. I am presently in Houston for some medical appointments for my daughter (She’s a heart transplant child and we are checking some things out regarding her health). I am a teacher and am missing a week of school. One of the things my sub, who is teaching the Constitution, is doing is having the kids develop questions about the Constitution for me to answer. I have always enjoyed the questions I get and this year I think the kids are more open about them possibly due to my absence. It has been awesome to answer the questions I have been getting by email. I can’t wait to go back next week and dig deeper into their questions.

  2. This is well done John. Good job. As a headhunter for over twenty years, I focus extensively on the questions people ask in their interviews. My comment to everyone is that “the questions you ask are frequently more important than the answers that you give”. I encourage people to ask meaningful and thoughtful questions, not just what is the money and the work hours. In an interview, our questions show interest, our ability to probe, understand, see the larger picture, show we can focus on what is important, admit to those areas where we need more knowledge (we know what we do not know) and telling the other party that we value them and thus want to understand them. Our ability to ask great questions is a major reason why candidates advance in the interview process.

  3. No one thinks it odd to ask questions in a casual setting to stat a relationship but I had to think about that when I started to sell.

    I look to enhance the use of #s 7 and 8.

    Don’t ask questions to pass the buck – accountability!

  4. These reasons to ask or not ask a question could be used to great effect if incorporated as part of an AI’s program. We all know that AI is far better and giving answers than asking appropriate questions. The motivation behind asking questions is uniquely human.

  5. Great read John, I am researching about the triggers for questions and particularly looking at the life of Jesus who used questions to amplify and teach.
    have you done any work on answering a question with a question? would be curious to know your views.

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