Questions are the key, Part 2

Last time we started our look at the importance of question-asking, specifically, the book "78 Questions Every Leader Should Ask and Answer" by Chris Clarke-Epstein. A speaker, trainer and consultant, Clarke-Epstein says the key to improving relationships with your employees and customers lies in the art of asking questions.

By asking questions and getting answers, you can combat the isolation inherent in leadership and gain the knowledge you need to improve your business, and keep your employees and customers happy. That sounds great, but what if you're not good at interacting with people?

Some people are shy and others just don't feel comfortable with some aspects of interpersonal communication, but if you want to go places, Clarke-Epstein says you need to overcome this problem. "You will get a job because of your technical expertise, but you'll keep or advance in an organization because of your abilities with people," Clarke-Epstein says.

Your problem may be that you don't know what to ask your employees, which is where Clarke-Epstein's book comes in handy - she's already got your questions written down for you.

"When you ask somebody a question you are, in effect, asking them to talk about their favorite thing - themselves," she says. Say you have an employee who loves to golf. Ask them if there are any good courses in the area, where they like to play or how they got started with the hobby. "When you ask somebody a well-chosen question you are opening the floodgates to them," she says.

"When you find out from people what kinds of things they do in their personal life, you find people who are running children's sports programs, managing extremely complex consensus-building activities, doing beautifully creative stuff. If you never asked you would never know that this person has this level of skill, which is wonderful to know because you can tap into it.

Even if you don't, you look at that person with new eyes."

If you're not comfortable asking about someone's personal life, work up to it by asking about the project they're working on:

"What part of the project do you think will delight the customer the most?" "I know you're immersed in this project, what have you learned?" "How is this solution going to enhance our reputation in the organization?"

The key, she notes, is you have to be absolutely sincerely in your desire to hear the answer. "Do not ask people questions if you're not willing to stay fully engaged and listen to their answers," she says. "There is nothing more insulting to have someone ask you a question and you start to answer it, and you realize the person who asked is starting to look at their watch."

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