My father said to me years ago “it doesn’t really matter what you know or don’t know, what matters is that you can communicate both”. My take away from his advice was neither to overwhelm people with what I know nor to BS people with what I don’t, but to communicate both to either convey what I know or be able to find the answers.
I’ve been a certified facilitator of discussions since 1994. 23+ years of learning along the way… the first 5 years focusing more on saying the right things to create conversation, 12 years of providing answers “to convince” and the past few years of understanding the art of the questions that create value.
Regardless of the market segment or level of expertise, I am convinced that questions are often more important than the answers they generate. Everybody wants to feel like they matter, everyone wants to say, “I matter”. There’s no better way of making a customer or colleague feel like they matter than when you ask the questions that are important to them. Even if you are asking them something because it’s important to you, make sure they know you value their answer, that it means something to you and why.
The reason why I call it the art of the question is quite simple. Imagine standing in front of a blank canvas. The questions you ask define the picture being painted. Is it all black and white? Probably not…while we tend to try to push things into spreadsheets and make things fit into business models, it is when we ask the right questions that we will see the bigger picture, to see cause and effect, to see what motivates stakeholders… to understand our internal and external customers.
Where are the customers of your customers going to be in 5 years? Where do your customers see themselves in 5 years? Where do you see yourself in 5 years? How you answer what you are going do to help your customers achieve their customer’s objectives will define where you will be in 5 years. Will you still be in the picture or erased?
I love asking customers about their customers. Are the customers you had 10-20-30 years ago the same ones you have now? What numbers were important 10 years ago and what numbers are important to you now? While we are on a roll here, what numbers will be important to you tomorrow? What are the barriers keeping you from your objectives?
Asking questions is one thing, knowing what do to with the answers is another. That’s where experience makes all the difference in the world.