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The Art of Asking Questions


The art of asking questionsThe best way to elicit knowledge and information from people is to ask questions, yet many people hesitate to ask questions, or they ask questions in the wrong way by focusing on their own agendas or by assuming they already know the answer. This attitude inhibits true conversation and knowledge transfer and stifles the free flow of ideas. By concentrating on knowledge sharing rather than trying to determine the "right" next question, questions will emerge organically and naturally to further creativity and ideas.

Show Respect through Active Listening and Curiosity

People who are adept at the art of asking questions are always active listeners. They listen completely to the speaker, without attempting to multi-task, checking their e-mail or planning their own next comments. They focus their attention completely on the topic at hand, as though this topic were the only topic that currently matters. During any conversation, full attention signifies a respect for the topic and the speaker that is conducive to the real exchange of ideas.

Engage Completely With the Conversation

People cannot actively listen if they are not engaged in the conversation. Every participant must show support for the topic and the ideas that emerge from the exchange. Active listening also requires questions that home in on the speaker's thought processes and the facts or experiences that have gone into formulating their knowledge and ideas. The art of asking question requires curiosity, which is another way of showing respect for the speaker.

The area where most people fail in the art is in planning their own next question too far in advance during the conversation. When people focus on their own image or agenda, the questions they ask are often self-serving or they drive the conversation into less productive paths. There is nothing wrong with waiting until a speaker has finished speaking before formulating a question. The listener may find it helpful to pause, take a breath, and then let their question emerge naturally from the flow of ideas.

Face-to-face conversation has a certain etiquette that requires a degree of interaction and respect while listening, but social media lacks those physical cues. Too often, instead of asking the perfect question to move the dialog forward, posters content themselves with platitudes such as "Nice post!" Frequently, the responder stops there instead of elaborating on the thoughts and ideas that the original post gave rise to, or as in physical conversation, they use that remark as a lead in to their own opinion instead of eliciting more information about the original topic.

Create Empathic Relationships through Thoughtful Questions

Especially on social media, people enjoy reading a well-thought out response to their ideas. If one is truly interested in a topic and in creating new knowledge and ideas, one should take the time to create a detailed post asking questions, sharing additional knowledge, or providing an opinion. The original poster will nearly always read a long answer carefully, and respond to questions with reasoned responses. This is the culmination of the true promise of social media - the sharing of ideas, knowledge and creativity across physical boundaries.

Questions and answersCareful and respectful responses, including questions and opinions, foster personal and durable relationships that can be as strong and as meaningful as physical relationships. It brings a sorely needed authenticity to the conversation, and allows the speaker and listener to focus on the important aspects of the topic, inspiring people to delve more deeply, freeing them from the time constraints inherent in conventional conversation.

Reputation Must Be Earned, Even Online

Not all social media platforms allow real or serious conversation, nor are they conducive to sharing ideas and creativity through a question and answer platform. Truly collaborative platforms encourage questions and answers as a way to spread content to its true audience, and this leads people to form real relationships. More shallow, conventional social media platforms encourage homogenous groups to provide each other with meaningless endorsements or "likes" that do nothing to develop new relationships or ideas.

When the value of one's content rather than one's popularity becomes the true measure of one's contribution, social media gives rise to real relationships and knowledge sharing. The art of asking questions in this environment is a valuable skill that enhances both the asker's and the original speaker's reputations.

Read also:
- Innovators Are Conversation Architects
- 5 tips in communicating with employees
- Interruptions : How to reclaim a conversation



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Opened by Antoine Fournier, Customer Communication Architect, Zurich Insurance
Mar 9, 2013.



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Nadine Hack CEO, beCause Global Consulting
Mar 25, 2013

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Antoine and Angus - Being able to listen well is one of the most important qualities for any human being, and especially for those who are in positions where they have a responsibility to make key decisions that will affect the lives of others. While it is true that few have mastered that at any moment in history, I call those who do "engagement leaders" and they inspire me.

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Angus Whitton Managing Director, JourneyPlan Ltd
Mar 9, 2013

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Sadly, too few people nowadays take enough time out to communicate properly.
Listening is an art!
Good article!

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Antoine Fournier 65 Antoine Fournier Customer Communication Architect, Zurich Insurance

Mar 24, 2013

Thank you Angus for your support.
Not sure it has ever been a time where people communicated properly.


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Vincent Van Damme Sep 25, 2013

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It makes me think about a famous sentence, pronounced at the end of an interview : "Now, let's talk a bit about you... What do you think about me ?"

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Andreas Wiedow 05 Andreas Wiedow Principal, arow-biz

Sep 25, 2013

Rofl . . . immediately brought to my mind

Answer: Yet another social media thingy that is, not really important :-) . . . (about.me)


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Sheba R. Dayal Ph.D. Nov 30, 2013

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Listening is one of the most neglected communication skills, never practiced rightly among many of us, which often leads to breakdown in communication or distortion in intended meaning. Besides, with the increase in the use of technology and social media, the right cues are not followed or perhaps one is not always acquainted or familiar with the right strategies.

Another point noteworthy to mention is cross-cultural communication which poses a major barrier to effective communication across borders and cultures. Largely people coming from different backgrounds are used to a certain culture they come from and may not always have right “Politeness strategies “to follow on ‘social media’ , thereby resulting in breakdown in communication.

Theoretically the top-down strategies are listener based which broadly include listening for main idea, predicting, drawing inferences and summarizing.., However, in reality, a person eliciting information or a response from another person, would have already decided to expect a certain specific response, often fails to give the other person enough time to express himself fully (selective perception).. which also holds the same with the other person as well..

Communication has to always be two-way, in the most objective and focused manner. At the same time, having mutual respect and regard for the time spent in knowledge sharing, eliciting information, keeping in mind that two important people are bringing up a point of discussion, perhaps leading to some strategic changes or decision making process, has to be mutually respected.

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Antoine Fournier 65 Antoine Fournier Customer Communication Architect, Zurich Insurance

Nov 30, 2013

@sheba - Thank you for your answer : Your totally right to point the cross-culture that will also impact a lot the listening approach.

Beside, you may like to read this post about Lateral Thinking & Listening:
Innovation: the Brain Child of Communication and Lateral Thinking

I would love to read your comments on this one too.




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Antoine Fournier Customer Communication Architect, Zurich Insurance
Sep 20, 2013


"Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply." - Stephen Covey



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Jesse Domingo Leadership Adviser, Strategist
Oct 23, 2013


It's important to note that one can only ask a good question if he has listened well.
And listening, mind you, is not simply showing your face but lending your ears.
It's not about "me first" but "tell me your story, and let's see what we can do."

Good questions are formulated when one really intends to solve not ridicule.

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Patrice Van de Walle Oct 23, 2013


A good question was alluded to below (or above), namely, when have people communication properly? Or to generalize it additionally, what are the conditions in which communication can work properly?

I am amazed, in my life, at how often communication fails: between my loved ones close to me and myself, in business settings with colleagues, etc. In each case I know that ego (mine and "others") gets in the way. But there must be more to it than that. For example, people often bring their "meaning structure" (see Dorothy Rowe) with them and try to fit what others communicate into that "world view". Would love to hear people's ideas on this....

As a communications professional, I often find the need to convince potential clients of their need to communicate better. It seems that people take communication for granted as something they are good at. Yet I can only think, "far from it".

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martin garix Jul 7


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