The Power of Asking Questions: Unlocking Information

The power of asking questions cannot be overstated. It allows us to unlock valuable information, deepen understanding, and build rapport with others. By shifting our focus towards listening and questioning, we can elevate our communication skills and enhance our effectiveness in various domains, including negotiations and problem-solving scenarios. So, let us embrace the art of asking questions and explore the rich tapestry of insights it can provide.

Josh Ether

1/8/20212 min read

When it comes to effective communication, a crucial aspect is our ability to gather information. One of the most effective ways to accomplish this is by asking questions. As Linda Babcock emphasizes, sometimes the simple act of asking is the pivotal step we need to take. Allow me to share a story that sheds light on the importance of asking questions, involving the University of Chicago and Mrs. Field, the renowned figure behind the Marshall Field Department Store.

The University of Chicago received a generous $1 million grant from Mrs. Field, which surprised administrators at Northwestern University. After all, Mrs. Field resided in Evanston and had previously supported Northwestern. When Northwestern reached out to Mrs. Field to inquire about her decision, they asked why she had given the money to Chicago instead. Her response was illuminating: "The people of the University of Chicago asked, and you didn't." This anecdote underscores the significance of asking for information or help, as sometimes the act of asking itself can yield remarkable results.

Research exploring the distinction between skilled negotiators and their average counterparts reveals a striking disparity in their questioning practices. We often assume that the primary objective in negotiation is to present our winning arguments or showcase our own vast knowledge. However, it turns out that asking good questions is often far more crucial. In a study conducted by Neil Rackham, over 100 labor negotiators, comprising both experts and relative novices, were observed and their negotiations recorded and analyzed.

The findings revealed that expert negotiators invested considerably more time in asking questions. They engaged in activities such as probing for clarification to ensure a thorough understanding, demonstrating empathy and concern for the other party's perspective. This emphasis on questioning and active listening played a significant role in their expertise. Importantly, these expert negotiators allocated far less time to other behaviors such as simply reviewing information, employing irritators (annoying remarks), personal attacks, or excessive justifications for their own positions. Instead, they presented one or two key reasons to support their proposals, while less experienced negotiators tended to offer numerous justifications.

What is particularly intriguing here is that the experts' emphasis on asking questions and their more restrained information sharing actually enhanced their effectiveness. They achieved superior outcomes by prioritizing listening and understanding over simply conveying their own ideas.

This underscores the importance of focusing on asking questions and genuinely listening to the answers, rather than solely focusing on asserting our own perspectives. By adopting this approach, we open up pathways to valuable information, insights, and perspectives from others. It fosters a collaborative environment where both parties feel heard and understood, leading to more productive and mutually beneficial outcomes.