“Does anyone have any questions?”

Many tremble at this common question and fail to reel in this prime opportunity. It may seem like common sense that everyone has the ability to ask questions of varying ranges of quality. My question is, do you use questions as a tool to actively seek out opportunities?

Whether your personality skews extroverted or introverted, speak up and take advantage of the opportunity. My personality skews introverted and back in elementary school I saw how opportunities would pass by, because I was too afraid to speak up. So I asked myself a simple question, would I ask a question on behalf of someone to help them? Yes, of course I would do someone else a quick favor. That person may end up getting some special outcome or rejected with me acting as the middleman. Now, the next question was, would I ask a question that could potentially help me?

At this point fear would set in. I was afraid of possible rejection projected towards me and having more responsibilities placed on me because of asking a question or possibly sounding foolish.

Trying to understand my prior fears, I realized there was little risk towards asking questions that did not initiate some sort of commitment. I shouldn’t be afraid of sounding foolish because questions were meant to help me and inaction would have made me a fool on easily preventable matters. Another insight was that, I shouldn’t be afraid to take on new opportunities, because exciting opportunities don’t come often.

With a curious mind questions become your weapon to wield and you are the detective unearthing new truths. Actively work to uncover truths about yourself as well. Introspection is the act of examining one’s own thoughts and feelings.

Introspection goes deeper than what you see on the surface.

Some powerful questions you can ask yourself are:

  • Are my fears protecting me or are they restraining me?
  • How have I changed overtime? Do I like the person I am today?
  • If I knew the date I would die would I go after what I am passionate about today?
  • Am I free?

Having a better understanding about yourself, will help you navigate the outside world with less friction as you know your strengths, weaknesses, motivations and values to act as your internal GPS.

As a question wielding detective, you should understand:

What not to ask

In school, teachers may proclaim, there are no bad questions. They lied. There are a ton of bad questions. But this in itself is an opportunity to practice your question asking skills as the volume of questions being asked is probably low. Just like many other skills, questions can be improved with practice. Find situations in which you can ask a ton of questions without much social repercussions.

You need to be aware that people will judge you based on questions you ask. Ask a bunch of ridiculous questions and people may assume you are a ridiculous person. However, that point is a big reason why people are afraid to ask questions. They care too much what others think of them. You should care if your question helps you in the current context in which it is being asked.

Try to stay away from asking irrelevant Yes/No questions or questions that could easily be found on Google. Questions that are too personal or questions that don’t relate to the situation or the person you are talking with.

That’s why it is important to know the audience.

The Audience

Even if you believe your question will help you, your audience still determines the potential scope of “good” questions, not you. It’s your job to understand your audience so you have a better chance of asking the right question.

General demographics like age, education and occupation, among other things, help to shape the kinds of question you can ask. This is towards individuals and groups.

Have an understanding of whom you are proposing questions towards is only part of information you need. You also need to know the context of the situation you are in as well as providing the context of questions you ask.

Context

If you are asking a question, you should give the person answering the question a fair chance by providing enough information that they can actually understand the question. More importantly keep it short, don’t include your whole life story and what you did today.

Your question should have focus and not be too broad so the person answering has an anchor to position their answer in context to what was asked.

One of the most important parts of asking questions is listening. Not listening and proceeding to ask questions is like using a fish to catch fishing rods.

Listening is how you learn to ask what you should really be asking.

Time

Time plays a crucial role in what questions you can ask and even if you have the opportunity to get to ask a question. This limitation can actually guide you into asking high quality questions that get to the point.

Think of the show 60 Minutes; Time is the key element of the show.

Steve Kroft interviewing President Obama. | AP Photo/CBS

In the book, Wait: The Art and Science of Delay, a scene with journalist and longtime CBS 60 Minutes correspondent, Steve Kroft, was brought up, when on May 2, 2011, the day Osama bin Laden was shot and killed, Kroft and his colleagues used their contacts at the white house to attempt to land an interview with the president. The White House only agreed to 35 minutes, with a program called 60 minutes, this posed a problem on how they would get enough information from the president to fill the program time. Kroft had interviewed Barack Obama many times before, and has been a correspondent for 60 minutes since 1989, winning multiple awards using his experience and researching abilities to control the interviews.

Kroft and his team came up with sixty possible questions, yes, six-zero. Some of Kroft’s colleagues describe his gift of “timing”, if a story is twelve minutes long, he understands exactly how to direct the story and the questions to fit into that time frame.

The day before the interview one of Kroft’s producers, gave him the final printed list of questions. The day of the interview Kroft, started revising around 5:00 AM, “eliminating questions that would lead to long answers.” During the interview Kroft puts forth closed and very short questions that lead to medium-length answers, which revealed Obama’s emotions and short-length answers which revealed new facts.

The interview was a push and pull battle, but a successful one that revealed the thoughtfulness and decisiveness of President Obama in that period around a historical event.

Knowing what’s the right question to ask takes asking a lot of questions, a good feel for timing and having an understanding of what you want.

What do you want

Knowing what you don’t know is a powerful way of helping yourself clarify what you actually want. Try not to think think of a series of questions as the steps of a ladder to what you want, but more as a series of connected bridges to where you want to be.

Have a solid understanding of your intentions when you ask questions, so you can direct the conversation and get value out of it.

Knowledge and Curiosity

The more diverse your knowledge is, the wider range of audiences you can appeal to with more accuracy in your insights.

When you understand the playing field, you can spot out what’s not right and use skepticism to form questions that are precise in their intentions towards finding the truth.

Curiosity allows for diversity in your questions. Asking questions that haven’t been asked before, unearthing hidden answers.

Opportunity

Questions reveal passions, motivations, insight and attention. Questions project your character and they are a powerful communicator. The ability to read minds can stay in comics, movies and other fantasies; asking impactful questions is the ability you can use today. Wisdom knows no age, and a face doesn’t always reveal someone with an interesting story. Learn from those before you, in front of you or next you. Take genuine interest and most important of all listen and be aware. Questions are your tool to learn about yourself and the world around you and the tool you need to create and discover opportunities.

“Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers.”- Tony Robbins

What question will you ask next?