I Just Wanted to Know…The Art of Asking Good Questions

Asking questions

I love asking questions.

I love picking people’s brains and knowing  what drives them to  end up at certain  points .

However, if you are anything like me, you get crippled with fear…of looking stupid or stammering or just rambling and  boring the other person to death.

Lately, I have been listening a lot to Classy Career Girl’s podcasts and one piece of advice that I felt was repeatedly  given was  the power of the ask.   You never know the power of just one question…

So once you get the chance to have an informational interview with an expert in the field that you would like to venture into or you are interviewing someone for your blog… how  exactly are you supposed to go about it?

Recently, a colleague sent me an article by Roger Dawson about  asking  good questions that really resonated with me.  He starts his piece with:

I used to be afraid to ask questions for fear that the question would upset the other person. I was one of those people who say, “Would you mind if I asked you?” or “Would it embarrass you to tell me?”

My personal favourite:  just wanted to know…  Aaargh!

As Tara Sophia Mohr rightly puts it in her blog post:

 Drop the “just:” “I’m just wondering …” “I just think …” “I just want to add …” “Just” demeans what you have to say. “Just” shrinks your power. It’s time to say goodbye to the justs.

While you are at it, drop the “actually.” “I actually have a question.” ” I actually want to add something.” “Actually” communicates a sense of surprise that you have something to say. Of course you want to add something. Of course you have questions. There’s nothing surprising about it.

Now, that  we are done with the Don’ts… How should we ask  good questions?

In this Fast Company article by Shane Snow provides us with a couple of pointers especially if you are conducting informational interviews:

  • Don’t ramble on–terminate the sentence at the question mark.
  • Get comfortable with silence.
  • Start with “who, what, when, where, how, or why” for more meaningful answers.
  • Don’t fish for the answer you want.
  • Stop nodding if you don’t understand–ask a follow-up instead.
  • If you get a non-answer, approach it again from a different angle.
  • Rephrase the answer in your own words.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask dumb questions.

The Start-up of You also gives  great pointers as well on asking good questions and  advocates for staying logged on the internet dial-tones i.e.  ensure that  you research on the  person or topic. Look through a person’s news feeds on various social media platforms and know what  they are passionate about and their current projects. This will definitely give you more material to work with, flatter the interviewee ( we all enjoy a bit of ego boost but don’t smother) and make the interviewee more keen on what’s coming up next…

Remember this:

The worst kind of question is the one left unasked. -Shane Snow

Related articles:

Overcoming your fear of networking

7 ways to earn more respect and influence as a young professional woman via Ms. Career Girl

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About Lillian

I am a proud student of the human experience which provides me with the perfect excuse for being a bibliophile (read: book hoarder) and the unofficial patron of Nairobi Inama bookshops. But in my past life, I was a recorder player. You can also find me on Medium (@lillianyamongo) where I discuss sustainable finance.
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