Larry King, who has made his living speaking to people as a television talk show host, believes that asking questions is the secret of good conversation. He says,
I’m curious about everything, and if I’m at a cocktail party, I often ask my favorite question: “Why?” If a man tells me he and his family are moving to another city: “Why?” A woman is changing jobs: “Why?” Someone roots for the Mets: “Why?”
On my television show, I probably use this word more than any other. It’s the greatest question ever asked, and it always will be. And it is certainly the surest way of keeping a conversation lively and interesting.
Whenever I am preparing for a meeting with someone, I spend time determining what questions I want to ask. I do this because I want to make the most of the time I have, but I also do it to engage with the other person. I want people to know that I value them, and that, if possible, I want to add value to them. To do that, I believe I must get to know them. That requires that I ask questions, they talk, and I listen. And if I hope to receive value from people, again I need to ask questions and listen. You can’t do these things unless you get to know people.
The meetings I look forward to most are the learning lunches I schedule every month with people who can teach me. When we meet, I come armed with questions. Many are specific to the individuals I’m meeting with. But there are some questions I try to ask everyone. You may want to use them too:
- What is the greatest lesson you have learned? By asking this question I seek their wisdom.
- What are you learning now? This question allows me to benefit from their passion.
- How has failure shaped your life? This question gives insight into their attitude.
- Who do you know whom I should know? This allows me to engage with their network.
- What have you read that I should read? This question directs my personal growth.
- What have you done that I should do? This helps me seek new experiences.
- How can I add value to you? This shows my gratitude and desire to add value to them.
I encourage the use of questions to engage others and to learn from them. I believe you will find it one of the most rewarding practices you ever develop.
Adapted from Good Leaders Ask Great Questions (October 2014)