Most Important Tool You Will Ever Learn

The Skill of Asking

The most important tool that I have ever learned in my roles as an entrepreneur, parent, and coach was the skill of asking.  Yet, one cannot just talk about asking great questions without the symbiotic discussion of the skill of listening.

When we discussed the various stages of the PressPlay Lifestyle, the first stage was the discovery phase.  It makes a lot of sense that when you are trying to discover the answers to some of your life’s most important questions that you would … well that you would ask questions.  Yet, asking questions would do little good if you didn’t also listen carefully to the answers.  This post going to provide a few tips on asking great questions, but please remember that you have to have the listening side of the equation too.

Asking Open Ended Questions

Armed with the knowledge that we have been gifted time and with the insight that our most important job is to ask, how do we ask effective questions?  There are few tips I can share with you about asking effective questions.  The first, and in my opinion, the most important is to ask open-ended questions.  An open-ended question is one that does not make it easy to just say yes or no.  If you ask an open-ended question, it allows the person you are asking to formulate an answer, really think of the answer, instead of choosing from an easy selection.  For example, I could have asked you, “Are you scared?”  You would have had the option of yes, no, or perhaps maybe.  If you were a quiet and reserved woman, chances are pretty high, I will get a yes or a no.

On the other hand, if you ask ME a yes or no question, chances are you will get a book detailing the six stages involved in the answering of that question.  A more effective question might have been, “What are you scared of, if anything, since you received the news?”  I asked you both questions.  The first one, you would probably of said yes.  The second one might have resulted in an amazing conversation about your biggest fear after getting the news being losing your memory or forgetting the important things in your life.

The point here is that while open-ended questions are good in some cases, you may not need to use them in all situations.

Asking Thought-Provoking Questions

Another tip is to ask thought-provoking questions.  If you really want to help, you really need to listen.  To listen effectively, you need to meet them where they are in their journey.  Since I now know you are fearful of forgetting, perhaps I could followed up with a question like, “What are the three things you are most worried about forgetting?”  You might have known off the top of your head the biggest thing or the top two things you are worried about, but perhaps the third you had to dig for.  Thought-provoking questions really allow you to learn something important about your conversation partner, and it forces you to learn how to critically listen.

Getting Complete Answers

The last tip on how to ask effective questions is useful when you are trying to really get a complete answer to a question.  It is usually best to consider asking when, how, why, who, and where type questions that are open-ended and/or thought-provoking.  For example, when I went to a doctor’s appointment with my mother, Genny, her physician, case worker, and nurse practitioner all sat down with my father-in-law, my sister-in-law, my mother, and me.  The doctor was trying to explain the next course of treatment for a very bad infection that Mom had.  He was talking down to us quite a bit and he diluted the message so much that it was hard to really follow what he was talking about.  That was not acceptable to me as I was about to make some pretty significant care decisions for her and I wanted to know all the details.

So, much to the physician’s dismay, I started with my questions.  When did you find the infection?  You might think this was not a valuable question, but it turned out there was not a single infection, but several.  She had one in her heart, one in her lung, and one in the space between her spinal cord and her spine.  I sure was glad I asked that one.  The next question I asked was how.  How did she get the infection in her heart, lung, and spine?  Interestingly, it wasn’t exactly the same answer for each of the three areas.  I won’t bore you with the details, just know that asking how resulted in a lot more dialog, and the physician was beginning to treat me like an intellectual vs. a stupid child that was asking dumb questions she could never comprehend.

Why it Matters?

While you might not be asking doctors questions about your sick mother when you are working through the PressPlay Lifestyle, I assure you that you will indeed be asking questions of any individuals as you try to find answers to the important questions in your life.  Using the skill of asking great questions and listening intently will help you more than you can imagine.