7 Suggestions for Asking More Powerful Questions

When I started out in my career, the key to success was having the right answers. If the boss had a question, he expected me to have the answer—or know where to get it. Those who advanced in their careers the quickest were seemingly the ones who had the most answers.

Questions Flow Chart Being Drawn by a Businessman - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/matspersson0, Image #16588175

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/matspersson0

But as I began to ascend the corporate ladder, I discovered that the key to success began to shift. It became less and less about having the right answers and more and more about having the right questions.In the age of Google, answers are the easy part. You can look up virtually anything and have the answer almost instantaneously. But this only happens if you know how to ask the right questions.

If you are going to be a successful leader, you are going to have to learn how to ask good questions. Here are seven tips for taking this skill to the next level.

  1. Ask open-ended questions. Questions that can be answered “yes” or “no” are closed-ended questions. They don’t generate discussion and they rarely yield any insight. By asking open-ended questions, you get far more interesting insights.

    For example, instead of asking, “Are you happy with your results?” you might ask, “Why do you think you got the results you did?” The first question can only be answered “yes” or “no.” The second question invites reflection and starts a discussion.

  2. Get behind the assumptions. Every business decision is based on assumptions. If you don’t understand these assumptions, you may, in fact, make a bad decision. It’s often helpful to ask yourself first—and then your colleagues—“What are we assuming in this scenario?”

    Then you need to keep peeling the layers off the onion until you get comfortable with the assumptions. This is where people often make mistakes. The logic may be impeccable, but if it’s built on faulty assumptions, you’ll end up with a faulty conclusion.

  3. Get both sides of the story. It is so easy to hear one side of the story, act on the information, and then be embarrassed when you find out that you only had halfthe facts.

    I have done this hundreds of times, I’m sure. I think I am getting better at getting both sides of the story, but I still consider myself “in recovery.” I have to constantly remind myself, There are at least two sides to every story.

  4. Ask follow-up questions. Avoid the temptation to comment on every question. Sometimes I like to see how many questions I can ask in a row without commenting. It’s amazing what you can learn when you do this.

    And it makes your comments or decisions much more informed. Often you don’t get to the real meat of an issue until you’ve gone several questions deep.

  5. Get comfortable with “dead air.” Most people get uncomfortable when things get quiet. They feel the obligation to fill the space with chatter. You can let this work to your advantage by just keeping your lips locked and your ears open.

    When you do, you will often find that people volunteer amazing amounts of information that you would have never obtained any other way.

  6. Help people discover their own insights. One of the best ways to mentor others is to ask rather than tell. Yes, you can pontificate to your subordinates, but your insights will not be as meaningful to them as they are to you. You can accomplish far more by leading them with good questions.

    One of my favorite, especially in the wake of a mistake or disappointment, is this: “What can we learn from this experience that might be useful to us in the future?”

  7. Understand the difference between facts and speculation. One of my former bosses once told me, “Make sure you tell me what you know and what you think you know, and make sure I know the difference.”

    People make all kinds of statements that they think are based on the facts. These should immediately cause your radar to go off. Often you will have to ask, “Do you know that to be a fact?” If so, “How do you know?” or “Can you provide me with the source for that statistic or claim?”

Finally, when you are asking questions, take notes. It communicates tremendous respect for the the person you are interviewing. It is also very helpful when things get quiet. You can go back over your notes and discover new questions you haven’t yet thought about or asked.

Question: What are some questions you have found useful as a leader? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • http://jonstolpe.com/ Jon Stolpe

    I have tried to ask this question throughout my career:  “How could I do this better next time?” or “What worked well and what didn’t work well with what we just did?”  It’s amazing how much this line of questioning has helped me advance throughout my career and how much this has better prepared me to lead.

    • http://www.michaelnichols.org/about Michael Nichols

      I agree, Jon. This discipline – asking great questions – is something we understand in theory, but I appreciate this reminder and these practical recommendations.

    • http://www.jeffrandleman.com Jeff Randleman

       I do the same thing in my relationships:  with my wife, my kids, my friends, my ministry…

  • http://missionallendale.wordpress.com/ Joey Espinosa

    Not just at work, but I need to do this better as I’m training my children. Too often I just ask leading yes/no questions when I’m dealing with an issue. I need to be sure I get to the heart of the matter, and help them understand it themselves.

    • http://www.michaelnichols.org/about Michael Nichols

      Good point Joey! Our children (and those on our teams) can sense when we’re asking leading questions. And they’ll give us the answers they think we want to hear so they can get back to what they were doing before we interrupted them.

      • http://darensirbough.com/ Daren Sirbough

        I love the honesty of this post.

    • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

      I agree, and had similar thoughts while I read this post. Now that my kids are older, it’s even more important that I help them find their OWN insights. They need to  know how to wrestle with an idea and come to their own conclusions. By asking the right questions, I can hopefully teach them how to do that.

    • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

       As a parent, spouse, or a leader, I can even ask open-ended questions but with the expectation of obtaining a certain outcome or answer. My wife will more than attest to this line of questioning. Ellen will almost certainly ask, “So what are you really asking?” She’s a sharp one, she is.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Yes, I agree. These questions apply equally at home.

  • http://runningwithhorses.wordpress.com/ Steve Hawkins

    These are great questions to ask stakeholders, subject matter experts, and managers when creating customer-facing business materials. For example, there are things like acronyms and “tribal knowledge” facts that you assume everyone knows, even those outside of your corporate walls. But if you are selling goods and services to a customer, you are providing solutions to their problems. As a result, you have to ask open-ended questions to those who create the products and services to unpack all of the assumptions and understand what they can and cannot do for your customers. Once you have that knowledge, you can create the brochures, marketing materials, and websites that highlight your products.

  • http://www.alslead.com/ Dave Anderson

    Getting both sides of the story is such a key as a leader.  The interesting thing I find is that in a conflict, many times one person in the conflict can not tell me what the other person truly believes.  Yet they come to me to complain.  

    My favorite question and follow-up is:  “What would ____ be saying right now if he were here?”  “Do you know that for a fact?”Most conflicts are due to a lack of communication.  The two parties have not spoken directly to each other.  They have argued over email or text at most.  Lots of times, the disagreement will be solved with the two parties getting in a room together.My mistake has been jumping in based on one person’s story.  Asking those two questions not only allows me to get both sides, but also those questions allow me to be sure the two principles in the conflict have done all they could to reach a resolution without me getting involved.

    • http://www.michaelnichols.org/about Michael Nichols

       Great idea Dave – “What would ____ be saying right now if he were here?”  “Do you know that for a fact?”

      • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

         I liked that as well. Great questions.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I have been guilt of jumping in too. I like your questions. Thanks.

  • http://blog.cyberquill.com Cyberquill

    Rather than “You think you’re the boss?” (closed-ended), it’s better to ask “Who the hell do you think you are?” (open-ended)

    • http://successbeginstoday.org/wordpress John Richardson

      The second one is much more effective. It will get you to the unemployment line faster and illicit more comments along the way.

    • https://www.bloggoround.com/ Jonathan Thompson

       I actually know a coworker who did this in a round about way.

      Another employee rudely told him that he did not need his help and to mind his own business.

      The coworker commenced to cuss him out, “put him in his place”, and then walked away.

      Unfortunately the “employee” ended up being one of the owners of the company.

      The coworker still has his job, but there is tension between the two.

      It is always a good rule not to use profanity, especially when talking to your boss.

      Another good rule is to at least look at the photos of people on the wall of any place of employment and avoid saying anything stupid to those faces.  :-)

      • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

         Cyberquill’s statement is funny. Jonathan, yours is practical, enlightening … and funny.

  • http://www.frymonkeys.com Alan Kay

    Great points, thank you. As Drucker says, the leader of the past knew how to tell – the leader of the future will ‘ask’. By learning to slow down and ask these questions leaders will learn to listen and be seen to be listening. 

    One additional context for your list. People will sometimes say things that don’t make sense to you, especially when they are fearful, or angry. So, take them seriously, not literally. 

    • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

       Good insight, Alan. Look and listen beyond the loudest emotion.

    • Rachel Lance

      This is great, especially the Drucker quote. And I love the distinction between seriously. & literally. Thanks for sharing!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Yes, I agree. Try to get behind the emotion. Thanks.

  • http://chrisvonada.com chris vonada

    This is an excellent list, I would suggest adding patience to #5… sort of fits there… and along with the rest of this maybe?

    • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

      It certainly takes patience (and a personal sense of security) to ask the right questions and then wait for the answers, without interjecting. Thanks, Chris.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Patience is critical; otherwise, it can feel like an interrogation rather than a conversation.

  • http://www.robsorbo.com/p/welcome-from-disqus.html Rob Sorbo

    Great post. I used to work for someone who asked great questions. It honestly opened up a hole new world of thinking for me–by answering his questions I began to see some of the outside of the box ideas that he had seen work in the past.

  • helloheady

    Good stuff Michael.  I have been looking for ways to ask better questions.  I mentor students in grades 8th thru 12th, and it is vital that I ask them the right questions.  Also, I have learned to appreciate “dead air” when working with this age group especially.

    • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

      You’re so right! The temptation is to feel compelled to speak/mentor kids in this age group. But what they really want is to be heard, to have a sounding board. I think helping them find their own insights is key here.

  • http://www.SiaKnight.com/ Sia Knight

    Great article, Michael.  Do you have a background in counseling?  Many of these questions are good, old fashioned coaching tools that I used as a school counselor.  They are tried and true and rock solid.  One more question that I would add is, “in this situation, what would you do if you were me?”  This question provides the added dimension of allowing the student (employee, etc.) to think things through with a more global perspective, instead of relying on their own myopic view.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      No, I’m afraid I don’t. I like your additional question. I have used that one too. Thanks.

  • http://www.thegeezergadgetguy.com/ Thad Puckett

    I like what your boss told you in number 7.  Sometimes it is important to make “educated guesses”, but know which part is fact and which is speculation is absolutely critical.    

    I know the best people I have worked for ask me good questions.  I hope I am learning to do the same.

  • Bob Tiede

    Michael–great post!  FYI I have just started a new blog:  www.leadingwithquestions.com with the purpose of helping all of us sharpen our “Leading with Questions” skills.  I will be reading all of the comments to your post today with great interest.

    • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

       Your blog and posts are exactly as advertised. Your questions are thoughtful, practical, and helpful for this in leadership. God bless you in your new endeavor.–Tom

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Excellent. This sounds like a much-needed resource.

  • http://twitter.com/peterwalters64 Peter Walters


    Thanks for the post.  In regards, to point 3 I try to remember this quote, “The truth always lags behind the story.”  Also I read a book by Dorothy Leeds called “The 7 Powers of Questions” which I thought  was very good.  Maybe your readers would like to check it out.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I love that quote! Excellent. I will check out the book. Thanks.

  • http://emuelle1.typepad.com/ Eric S. Mueller

    Getting comfortable with silence is important. I was a Realtor a couple years ago. One of the things they trained us with was to make a statement or ask a question, then sit there quietly. Most of us have a habit of babbling when things get quiet, but it’s a good way to talk yourself out of a sale. Or out of many things.

  • John Havercroft

    I learned this from a supervisor years ago and it has served me well.  As your team is about to return to their teams ask them to share “So what are you going to say to them?”  This provides affirmation of common understanding, models some good language, and firms up accountability.

  • Sherri

    Asking the right questions is far more difficult and it’s often due to differences in perception. I know what I think I’m asking for, but does the person hearing me understand it the same way? We have to be thoughtful about what we’re asking, but also about how we ask. We all make assumptions without even realizing it and that always colors how we hear things. 

    A great way to mitigate this problem is simply to listen closely to feedback from others. A simple concept, but one most of us struggle with.  It’s all about communication skills, and we all need to pay more attention and continue to learn and practice. 

  • RonLane

    Thanks for the reminder and helpful suggestions. This is something that I understand the need for and am working to get much better at doing.

  • Miles Ahrens

    Almost any closed questin can be transformed into an open question by starting it with “what are some . . . .” “Did you like the presentation?” becomes “What are some things you liked about the presentation?” “Is there a way to do this better?” becomes “What are some ways to make this better.”

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      This is good advice, Miles. Thanks.

  • http://darensirbough.com/ Daren Sirbough

    This is a great blog. I find that when I am mentoring someone through an issue, if I simply ask questions like, “How did that make you feel” or “What do you feel his/her intention was” “Where do you think the miscommunication happened” I often can get people to their own healthy conclusions because the questions lead a person down the right path. It was a previous blog that stated that if you ask unhealthy questions, your mind will give you the answers. Questions such as “What is wrong with me” or “Why don’t I ever get this right” are destructive. There is power in words, therefore I believe there is power in asking the right questions.

  • http://www.lincolnparks.com Lincoln Parks

    I need to get more comfortable with dead air. I tend to want to say something and usually do which typically ruins the moment. I do feel obligated to fill the air with Chatter. I am working on not doing so. Love it.

  • http://successbeginstoday.org/wordpress John Richardson

    In my first book, The Path of Consequence, these questions make up the basis of the seven talents or pillars of who we really are.

    1. Personality = Who we really are
    2. Passion = What we love to do
    3. Purpose = Why we do what we do
    4. Path = When and where we are on the timeline of life
    5. People = Who we surround ourselves with
    6. Problem solving = How we overcome obstacles
    7. Place = Where we live and work

    While these questions are great to ask in the concept of leadership, they are also useful to ask ourselves. When you can determine someone’s passion and purpose and tie that in with their personality and problem solving skills, you probably have a person in a job they love and on a path of excellence. If you surround them with people who are helpful and supportive, they will probably be in a great place to work.

    There is nothing better than that!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      This is a great framework, John. I like it!

  • http://www.godsabsolutelove.com/ Patricia Zell

    Questions are among the most important tools that I have as a teacher. Since my primary objective is help my students think critically, the questions I develop must give them that opportunity. Most of my assessments are open-ended with no “right” answers. I ask my students to make educated assumptions (opinions) and to provide evidence (facts) that support those assumptions. My students, for the most part, don’t mind these kinds of assessments–many of them write effusively. As I grade the tests, if  any of my students’ assumptions and evidence don’t line up, I try to give them encouragement to think more critically.

    The ability to think critically is vital for all of us. With all the availability of information everywhere we look, it is tempting to follow charismatic people because of who we think they are rather than to closely listen to what they say and apply critical thinking to their words. Perhaps we would do well to be skeptical of claims of “truth” until we ask all the right questions and think things through.

  • http://www.kellycombs.com/ Kelly Combs

    As a mom, I love how your posts can be used in leadership at home.  I use #1 on my kids all the time.  I can either ask, “Did you have a good day at school,” and get a yes or no, or I ask, “What was the best thing that happened at school today?” and get a long conversation.

    #3 is also critically in parenting, especially where siblings are concerned. 

    I have found a useful question is, “Am I correct that you are saying….” and paraphrase what you believe you heard.  This helps end misunderstandings and also gets the other person talking again.

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      “Am I correct that you are saying…?” is such an effective question!  I have taken conversations down useless trails expending valuable time and attention (of both kids and adults) by not clarifying the starting point of the conversation.  

      That’s a great question, Kelly!

  • Tram4hr

    What is our main objective? is really powerful as it helps us focus

  • http://www.struggletovictory.com/ Kari Scare

    My previous boss was great at asking questions, and he was also good at listening. Asking questions does no good if you then don’t take the time to listen. I’ve been known to walk away or quit talking when someone fails to listen to my answer after asking me a question. May not be the best response on my part, but it’s the best I can do when I feel slighted in this way. Oh yeah, I’m talking to myself too. I need to be a better listener after asking questions, especially with my kids.

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      So true, Kari.  I once had a mentor who used an analogy about listening that I’ve never forgotten.  He has seven kids and said that they never “nag” to get attention.  You know how they can pull on your pant leg calling for your attention ‘Mommy, Mommy!”  or “Daddy, Daddy!” until they get your attention?  

      This mentor said that his kids never do that.  They always wait patiently because he has made a concerted effort to train them.   When he is ready to stop what he’s doing and give them attention, he looks them in the eye, gently places both hands on their cheeks, acknowledges them and gives them his full attention until the conversation is finished.  Because they know that they have his undivided attention, they are willing to wait patiently as long as it takes to get it.  

      I began that practice with my son as those “interruptions” happen regularly because I work from home.  I found that he doesn’t like the hands on the cheek thing, so I don’t do that :).  But he loves and respects my full undivided attention so much that he’s willing to wait patiently for it.

      To your point above, I think adults are the same way…

      • Kari Scare

        I agree. When we become better listeners, communication to and from us improves drastically. I heard a quote once that fits here: Seek first to understand then to be understood. True with kids, adults, bosses, etc.

  • http://www.suttonparks.com/ Sutton Parks

    As part of discovering assumptions I’ve learned to assume that there is an unknown risk that may happen as well. It may be a world or economic event or just an outcome we didn’t imagine. Knowing this in advance helps me take full responsibility for the decision even if an unknown risk occurs.

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      That’s a great perspective, Sutton.  It helps us remember that success is not always within our control.  If we acknowledge the once unknown risk, we can include that as part of the assumptions for the next project, using it to make that next project better. 

  • Peter Morrison

    This is worth keeping in my Moleskine. Some that I’d add: 1) Encourage people to look beyond themselves, and collaborate more: Who else would you have included in the process if you could start over? Who contributed to the success?  2) Improve fact finding: What info was overlooked or minimized that you realize now had greater importance? How can we improve the results or achieve the same results but simplify the process next time?

  • Jeaninegraf


    Japanese businessmen have often noticed that Americans feel uncomfortable with silent, pregnant pauses. They often divulge important information impulsively.

    If the poser of questions can really listen, and be present in that moment, another kind of communication can happen. Madeleine l’Engle called it “kything” an old Scottish word for
    “communicating without words”.


    • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

      You’re comments remind me of my experience while living in the Russian Far East. We Americans are very aware of physical proximity/personal space. Russians tend to stand closer when conversing which, at first, made me uncomfortable. After experiencing mass public transit in our city though, I learned to shorten my personal space by a considerable amount.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Great comment. I have never heard of kything, but I like it!

  • http://exciramedia.com/ Shannon Steffen

    Questions definitely help bring out the best innovation and creativity in people – in business and in life.

    I have been blessed to have attained by BA in Philosophy many years ago. During my 4 years of study, there was one question that every professor and assignment dictated – the answer to “Why?”. No hypothesis was sound until you have asked “Why?” down to its finite point. This is the same in business and life.

    Children are born asking “Why?” to everything. Although annoying at times (to adults), they have a deeper understanding and unique inquisitiveness that leads to sound strategies and conclusions in life. For some reason, why lose the ability to ask “Why?” as we get older – feeling that we are annoying other adults. However, it is that very question that leads to the greatest inventions and life quests.

    Every time Edison failed with the lightbulb, he would ask himself a series of questions, including: “Why did this fail?” It was asking that same question 10,000 times that led to the invention of the lightbulb. He never felt he failed 10,000 times – he just learned how to not invent a lightbulb 10,000 times.

    This is why mastermind groups are so important in business. For example, I’m heading out shortly to attend the Milwaukee Breakfast Club which includes only 6 people. We go around the table with updates and then ask a question that we need answered for our business. We pick one person’s questions and, instead of giving our advice, we ask that person questions about their question. This gets the person to really start thinking and put together a sound and successful plan.

    It’s the questions that drive us. The more powerful, the more successful.

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      Shannon, what a brilliant way to lead a mastermind group!  Instead of everyone giving advice, just have everyone ask effective questions.  I’ll bet that helps the question givers as much as the person being asked!

      • http://exciramedia.com/ Shannon Steffen

        Thank you, John! It is truly a refreshing group of people and the questions are very deep. You have no choice but to think early on a Monday morning. It’s the perfect momentum to take you and your business through the week ahead.

  • http://carstensblog.com/ Carsten Wendt

    #5 Get comfortable with ‘dead air’ is so true. Invaluable and always good to be reminded.

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      That is invaluable!  There’s an old negotiation training principle that says “He who speaks first loses.”  This is certainly true of leaders also.  When we listen, everyone wins.

  • Don Mercer

    Great article, thanks.

    In Follow to Lead (www.follow-to-lead.com) I point out that one of the main principles to becoming a great follower, and by extension a great leader, is to Inquire; asking questions. 

    One of the key questions I have found useful is the ‘levels of why.’  By that I mean that the first answer to asking ‘why’ usually gets to a standard answer.  Then you ask ‘why’ that answer is believed to be correct and you get to a deeper level of rationale.  By the time you get to the third or fourth level, discovery takes place for all who are listening.  Often I have found that I can quickly get to a ‘we have always done it this way’ or a ‘nobody really knows’ response and then we can get down to buisness of solving the real foundational issue.

    As a leader one of our responsibilities is to create an environment (I call it the Followership Culture) in which questions flow freely from the followers as well as the leaders.  The principle is this: “The silent stagnate in ignorance; the curious unlock wisdom.”

    Don Mercer

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      Very true, Don.  I followed a trainer once who argued that you don’t get to true motivations until the “7th level of Why”.  It takes some practice and skill to get there, but as you say “…the curious unlock wisdom”.  The more effective questions you ask, the more wisdom that gets unlocked. 

  • http://www.workyouenjoy.com Adam Rico

    We often think the person speaking in a conversation is leading the conversation. I think it is actually the person asking questions who leads the course of the conversation.

    Asking a good question can be a powerful tool in influencing others. Really good coaches and leaders rarely give advice, instead they ask powerful questions. Thanks for your post Michael.

  • Denise green

    This is one of the most valuable skills a leader can learn. I also coach leaders to pay attention to tone. If you ask the open-ended question with an interrogative tone, you will create defensiveness. If you are genuinely curious (or even faking well)  and they you give them the space to think, you are more likely to create safety and let their brain find an insight. Many analytical people get defensive at the word “why” as if they have to come up with the right answer. I coach leaders to use more open phrasing like, “if you had to guess, what would you say the answer is?
    Thanks for the great post! All my best, Denise

    • http://www.timpeters.org/ Tim Peters

      Denise –

      Creating safety.  I like that language.  Thanks for comment.  

  • https://www.bloggoround.com/ Jonathan Thompson

    I enjoyed reading the points above.

    I also think it is a good practice that when you ask a question, try your best to eliminate any preconceived answer you might have and actually listen to the answer the other person gives you.

    It causes confusion, resentment and mistrust when a person asks you a question they think they already “know” and don’t really care what your answer is.

    • http://www.timpeters.org/ Tim Peters

      Jonathan.  That is a great add.  Man it is easy to have preconceived answers.  Especially if you interrupt the person with the answer.  

  • http://twitter.com/bfield75 bfield75

    I think the single best question you can ask someone is “How is your family?”  Whenever I ask this question I can almost immediately see people soften because they feel like I care about them and am not just trying to use them as a stepping stone to get where I need to go.  All of the questions I ask after this key question are met with thoughtful and open answers that really add value to my thinking.  

    • http://www.timpeters.org/ Tim Peters

      Interesting thought.  Do you see a difference if the person’s family life is not good? 

    • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

       That reminds me of Dave Ramsey and how he interviews job candidates. He likes to learn about the family and if they’re doing well or if they’re crazy.

  • http://twitter.com/JoePasskiewicz Joe Passkiewicz

    Great post and subject Michael.  I have met some very successful people who have the gift of powerful questioning and I have been been working on this area of my development for the past couple years.  One of my difficulties is being able to effectively process what is being said to me and also formulate an excellent follow-up question at the same time.  The strategy in your first suggestion about keeping the questions open ended is especially powerful.  I will often follow-up with a question that results in a yes/no answer and the thought train comes to a halt! 

    Thank you for the list.  This will be useful for mentoring as well as my personal pursuit of increasing my questionning skills!   

    • http://www.timpeters.org/ Tim Peters

      Agree.  Most successful people I know are great at asking questions.  

  • http://twitter.com/danakcassell Dana K Cassell

    Sorry if this duplicates someone else’s comment – haven’t read them all — but these are also the types of questions writers should be asking when researching articles and books. Good list.

    • http://www.timpeters.org/ Tim Peters

      Dana, thanks for comment.  

  • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

    #3, for some reason, stands out to me. I have this niggling thought in the back of my mind of hearing a story, responding in one direction (usually with “righteous” indignation), then discovering the truth. 

    I note that some headlines (“Woodsen Asks If Troy Aikman was Drunk” is a recent one that comes to mind) mislead you then redirect you in the article. If you only get the headline (one side of the story), then you come away ignorant of the facts.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Sadly, too often people only come away with the headline. Drudge is the worst at this. It’s all about getting you to click. (I’ve probably been guilty of it myself!)

  • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

    Already I’m thinking about the “I’m curious” question at the end of my blog each posting. “Do you have a story about [pertinent subject of blog?” is a “yes” or “no” question. “What is your story about [pertinent subject of blog]?” starts with the assumption (ah, hitting on point #2) that each person has a story to tell. It invites the reader to think about his or her experience and respond.

    We’ll see how that works out with this evening’s post.

    • http://www.timpeters.org/ Tim Peters

      Let us know how it works out.  

  • wpetticrew

    Norm Peterson (the character from Cheers) asked a very good bottom-line question.  “Does it change the price of a beer”.   I have found that this to be a wise question to ask… using the “Normisum” helps break the ice.      I have witnessed far too many meetings with very smart, committed individuals, who want to do the right thing the right way.  They have dug into the details, proposals presented and a lot of energy expended.   But I had to ask, what really changes and by how much.   The tactics were great, methodologies sound and strategies well thought out.  But how does it move the needle.  Which one, how far, in what direction and at what cost ( not just money)?

    I see the wrong battles being fought way too many times.  The leader must ensure the resources are being applied on the right efforts and know when the point of diminishing is approaching.

    • http://theordainedbarista.com/ Barry Hill

       Love “Norm-isms!” That could be an entire blog post—several!

      I really appreciate what you had to say about the big picture, too. If we don’t understand which battles to (or not to) dig our heels in, and the law of diminishing returns, we end up majoring in the minor issues! I want to major in the majors issues— the ones that move the needle!

  • LivewithFlair

    My favorite teaching quote is “We teach what we most need to learn” from Parker Palmer.  I am learning to ask genuine questions that I don’t already know the answer to.  Sometimes a leader will ask “leading questions” or questions she already knows the answer to just to sound smart or seem curious.  Nothing beats real, genuine curiosity when asking questions as a teacher or leader.  At least this is what I’m learning!   I love teachable hearts, and I pray that mine stays curious! 

    • http://www.timpeters.org/ Tim Peters

      Love that quote.  

  • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

    A couple of comments write about patience and dealing with dead air. They reminded me of my experience yesterday as the guest speaker at a church. I had the responsibility of the pastoral prayer and asked, “Are there any prayer requests?” (I’ll rephrase the question next time I’m faced with that task.)

    Silence. The need to fill that dead air space paced around in my head like a restless tiger in a small cage. About the time I felt especially compelled to open the cage door, someone spoke up. Then another. Then another. After a few minutes, silence again, but now I knew it was okay to fill it with the appropriate words, “Let us pray.”

  • http://cherionethingivelearned.blogspot.com/ Cheri Gregory

    This list is being printed and committed to memory!  Thank you, Michael, for another practical tool.

    Christ used questions to prompt people to think more deeply: “Who do you say that I am?” … “Why does this generation seek for a sign?” … “Which is easier to say…?”

    When I’m having a writing conference with a student, my #1 question is, “What do you mean by ____(a word, phrase, or concept)?” 

    The student is initially frustrated: they think the meaning is obvious to anyone with half a brain. I know that their idea isn’t even half-baked; it most cases, they’ve barely gotten out a few ingredients!

    It’s via questions that I coach them through the process of sharpening their focus (“Are you wanting to talk about __ or ___?”), making a stronger point “So if you could only say 10 words, what would they be?”), and then supporting it well “What specific examples can you use as evidence? How do they demonstrate your claim?”)

    If I don’t use questions and engage with the answers, I’m not teaching. I’m just editing to improve the paper. And failing help the student grow as a writer.

    • http://theordainedbarista.com/ Barry Hill

      I had an English teacher who did the same thing! And, yes, I too got frustrated, but now looking back I am so grateful that she didn’t take my “good enough” effort in High School and challenged me to be more. Thanks for all you do for your students!

  • JaysonFeltner

    Great post!  You can’t find the answer unless you can ask the right question.  People miss how important questions are.  I find many people to be afraid of asking too many questions and they leave themselves uninformed.  

    I learned to ask questions when I was reading “Boone” by Boone Pickens.  He’s sitting with his lawyers and tells them that if he doesn’t understand something he’s going to stop them and ask them to explain it.  His lawyers say it’ll cost him because they’re paid by the hour.  Boone says it’ll cost him a whole lot more if he doesn’t understand.
    On a side note, I like the image. Ii’ve used it before on one of my posts – http://jaysonfeltner.com/2012/01/fit-to-lead-planning-ahead/

    • http://theordainedbarista.com/ Barry Hill

      Great illustration!

  • http://strengths.jimseybert.com Jim Seybert

    Mike – #5 should be at the top, in big bold letters. Don’t be afraid of dead air. And let me suggest that it could even be “Embrace the power of dead air.”

    As a 20-year news anchor, talk show host and radio personality I was drilled on the need to fill every nano second with something. In broadcast, time is literally the only inventory you have and allowing even a second to go wasted is tantamount to malfeasance.

    BUT in the world of business, dead air is everything BUT dead. It’s in one periods of silence when the real thinking happens. And boy is it difficult for corporate types to do this. When I run brainstorm and ideation sessions for clients, the agenda purposefully allows for “quite time” because I know the folks around the table get precious little time to just sit and think.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      You should write a post with this title, Jim. Powerful. I think there’s a good deal you could unpack! Thanks for commenting.

  • http://seekoutwisdom.blogspot.com Joseph Iliff of SeekOutWisdom

    When my goal is to encourage others to talk about themselves, I have had success with an equal either/or format.  For example, I would state that there is a 30% chance of rain and ask if the person would choose to carry an umbrella around all day, or not.   Another would be to ask if they are more likely wake up early or stay up late.  Or are they quick to pick up the latest gadget or app, or wait until others have tried it out first.  I want to make both options appear acceptable, so the respondents feel free to share about themselves, rather than guessing what I or others want to hear.

    • http://theordainedbarista.com/ Barry Hill

      I really like this approach. It really helps people engage and feel valued.

  • http://www.CrazyAboutChurch.com/ Charles Specht

    “dead air”

    This can be soooooo beneficial.  As a public speaker (preacher), I know how important a “pause” can be.  It allows people to think.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I had the privilege of hearing Henri Nouwen speak once. After each major point (there were three), he would ask us to reflect on the previous point and then just become quiet for 60 seconds. It seemed like a really, really long time, but it was so effective.

  • Brian Kiley

    Asking questions is an important skill that is often overlooked, and these seven tips are important. I have found that when it comes to building rapport with an individual, be they a subordinate, client, or friend, I have found it is helpful to get them talking about whatever it is they are passionate about, and then use tip #4 from your list to keep them talking. There are several benefits to this: First, it’s a great way to show someone that you care about then. Second, nearly everybody is interesting when they are talking about something they are passionate about. Third, it’s a great way to learn about subjects that I would be unlikely to learn about on my own. Just recently I have learned about geology, spear fishing, old car restoration, and minor league basketball (all subjects that are of minimal interest to me) from conversations that I’ve had with people at church. Those conversations have been not only educational, but they have also been helpful in forming new relationships.

  • http://tcavey.blogspot.com/ TCAvey

    Open ended questions and using silence are gold.  As a nurse I have used both with great results. 

    Also, validating someones feelings is helpful.

  • 48DaysDan

    When I had lots of employees I found one of the most helpful questions I could ask was – “What would you do in this situation?”  That shared responsibility helped to remove me from having to have all the right answers.  

    • http://theordainedbarista.com/ Barry Hill

      I love this question. I use this line a lot when coaching and correcting my kids.  :)

    • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

       I like that question Dan! It helps you to know the person better(seeing what their response would be), gives you a new view on the situation, and allows the employee to feel empowered.

    • Jim Martin

      Dan, I can see how this question might be very helpful.  Thanks!

  • http://theordainedbarista.com/ Barry Hill

    I especially appreciate #2. I love the idea of really dealing with, and talking about, the assumptions before you move on.  Then you can clarify what people are thinking about the past, present, future, expectations, roles, trust that it will be completed.

  • http://sidekickgraphics.com/ George Gregory

    A great reminder. I’m a great one for telling people what I think, and am constantly reminding myself to ask questions and LISTEN in a deliberate way. When you do, it tells the person that they are important and shows you respect them. 

    You have to genuinely want to know what they think, with an open heart willing to consider their views.This is quite an adjustment, because it requires true humility on our part to become good listeners.

    I really liked the part about open-ended questions. Sometimes answers are messy, but taking the time to understand the nuances of a situation is important. Simple answers are often glib and don’t carry a lot of weight.

  • http://soulfari.blogspot.com/ Jay Cookingham

    Actively listening is a powerful relational tool, it helps us tune in the person we are trying to understand better. Great post brother!

    • http://www.timpeters.org/ Tim Peters

      Active listening is huge.  

  • http://www.jeffrandleman.com Jeff Randleman

    This post couple be reposted almost exactly as-is with the title “How To Communicate With Teens In Youth Ministry.”

    These principles all translate really well to what I do working with youth.  I’ve learned how to communicate in ways that allow teens to open up instead of closed, uneasy communication.

  • http://www.volunteerfringe.com/ Marney Mcnall

    Your post made me think of the book I’m currently reading called, ‘QUIET: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking’. The author, Susan Cain, discusses how simply asking questions is a method to give strength to a more introverted, mild-mannered person. 

    From QUIET…”And she tended to ask questions–lots of them–and actually listen to the answers, which, no matter your personality, is crucial to strong negotiation.”

    • Jim Martin

      Marney, good comment!  I have heard of this book but actually know very little about it.  I just downloaded the free sample onto my Kindle.

  • Wendy Claussen

    I believe when questions are asked using “WE” instead of “YOU”
    it builds a sense of community between all those involved in the discussion.
    Using YOU sounds like blame. Using WE sounds like teamwork. Thank you, Michael,
    for using WE throughout your post! :-)

    “What are WE assuming in this scenario?”
    “What steps can WE
    take to make sure WE understand both sides of the story?”

    “What can WE learn from this experience that might be useful
    to us in the future?”

    “Can you provide me with the resource for that statistic so
    WE know WE have our facts straight?”


  • Josh Glaser

    Working with a lot of ministry people, sometimes we’re too prone to only offering positive or “nice” feedback. This leaves us at a disadvantage if we’re ever going to grow or get better at what we do, so I’ve learned to also ask questions that require my team to look at our areas for improvement: “What could we do differently next time?” “How would you do your part differently next time?” “How can I serve you better on future projects?”

    • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

       All great questions Josh, and ones that need to be asked. I like to ask the “What could we do differently question.” It leads to great follow up and growth.

  • http://www.learningalongtheway.com/ Lisa

    Great points for work relationships and really all relationships!  Engaging people and inviting their thoughts and contributions really are marks of a great leader; giving them space in the silence to contribute can be challenging (especially for an extrovert!) but very worthwhile.   Thanks for laying out these suggestions in a clear, practical way.

    • http://www.timpeters.org/ Tim Peters

      I agree Lisa.  Great questions for all relationships.

  • http://deuceology.wordpress.com Larry Carter

    My boss today asked me a question I didn’t have the answer for.  I had the opportunity to have gotten it before he asked, but I missed it.  He then gave me the opportunity to learn from that that and get the answer.  Just by asking me a question.

    • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

       Sounds like a great learning opportunity Larry! Glad you were able to grow from the experience.

  • http://danblackonleadership.com/ Dan Black

    While in college I took some counseling classes which really helped when it come to asking listening and conversation skills (asking question skills). I believe it would benefit any leader/manager to take a counseling/conflict resolution class, because it will sharpen your skills in this area. Great post. 

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  • Kelly Williams

    One of the best questions I have found to ask us a variation of “What’s important about this?”. It adds a further dimension to the discussion and leads to greater insight.

    • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

       Great question Kelly! I can see that leading to knowing the person’s heart.

    • Jim Martin

      This is a very good question.  I can see how this might be very insightful at times.

  • http://www.brendonwilsoncreative.com/ Brendon Wilson

    When I was younger .. not that I am old now, I had the extreme privilege to go through a number of the Dale Carnegie Courses and it has allowed me through the years to really ‘re-look’ at the way we ask questions. In fact, my mentor over at Dale Carnegie – Michael Crom (Carnegie’s Grandson) was famous for dead space …… Thanks for the great post – I will be sharing it with my team. 

    • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

      I’ve been thinking about the Carnegie courses. This just pushed me one step closer!

      • http://www.brendonwilsoncreative.com/ Brendon Wilson

        I would say who I am today in leadership, people development and public speaking would have a lot to do with those courses …… not cheap but I literally use the Leadership Training for Managers Manual every week to help people go to a higher level. 

        • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde


  • Miranda

    Here’s what I always say when I notice a person’s (or an organization’s) success: “There’s no magic about it; they went about things in a manner that resulted to success.” So I ask questions like “What DID they DO right, and DIDN’T they DO wrong?” Observing such people or organizations as a case study, and asking the right questions – What are the things they DEEMED right to do? And, What are the things they made every effort to AVOID? – gives greater insight than one could possibly imagine. With these at the back of my mind, I get ready to be practical about what I discover, and to work hard as well.

    Another thing, do not decide to throw away a seemingly good idea because it appears ‘difficult’ to accomplish. This is where optimism (along with the right dose of realism) plays a huge role. If history has taught us anything, is that, what the mind can conceive, it can achieve. We can take a few lessons from history!

    • Jim Martin

      Miranda, good point!  Asking good questions can give so much insight and information.

  • http://cavemanreflections.blogspot.com/ Michael Mulligan

    I like the onion peeling idea.  At the center of the onion you find the heart.  I’ve learned people will share their hearts when you learn to ask questions like “how to you feel about this?” or “why is that important to you?”  Great post.

  • http://talesofwork.com/ kimanzi constable

    I think these questions are right on and if more leaders asked them, they would have better results. Most of the time leaders are too willing to bark out orders instead of asking the right questions.

  • http://www.learntodobusiness.com/ Kenneth Acha

    Great post. Nothing reveals a person’s depth of understanding of a subject matter like the questions that person asks. The ones that he answers only reveal a little bit. The ones he asks tell much more about his depth of understanding or insight. But of course, this is true only when people ask honest questions. When they ask to know more about a situation etc.
    So when I talk to someone that I shepherd, I prefer to have them ask me questions than asking them questions. (Now this won’t work if you are doing an interview or something like that.) The key is to create an environment where those questions are spontaneous. If you make them feel pressured to ask you questions, you dilute the revelatory strength of this technique.

    • Jim Martin

      You make a good point, Kenneth, about questions revealing the depth of a person’s understanding.  That is so true.  When I teach a class, I know that my questions are better if I have a good grasp of the content.

  • Carlos Gutierrez

    Premises are use to find out assertive answers.

  • http://www.andrewsobel.com/ Andrew Sobel

    Great list. I like to ask several other types of questions as well:

    Empowerment questions: “What’s the best way for us to use this time together?”  “What have you tried already? What worked/didn’t work?”  “What do you think is the right decision?”  “What did you learn”

    Passion questions: “Why do you do what you do?”  “What are you doing in your work that you are the most excited about?” “Outside of your major in college, what did you study?”  “If you hadn’t become a lawyer, what would you have done?”

    Aspirational questions: “You’ve had a great career…what else would you like to accomplish?” “You’ve achieved significant improvements in the last two years–where do think future growth will come from?” “If you had additional time and resources, where would you put them”

    And finally, the ultimate question that Jesus asked his disciples before entering Jerusalem for the final time: “Who do you say I am?”

    (Matthew 16:15)
    . In other words, 

    As a leader, do people know who you really are and what you stand for? Do they know what your values are and what drives you? When you are gone, will the organization be able to carry on?

    Many of these are drawn from my new book, Power Questions (Wiley). I’ve been using these–practicing, really–with my own senior business clients and I’ve seen that the impact of the right question at the right time can be transformational.

    • http://www.timpeters.org/ Tim Peters

      Andrew – I like these questions.  Very good.  

    • Jim Martin

      Andrew, these are very good questions.  Also, you are so right.  The right question at the right time can be so significant.

  • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

    Here are my top three questions:

    1. This worked well this time. What could we do next time to make it even better?
    2. What stuck out to you in this experience? – This helps you to see how others viewed a situation. It may be the same or you could be shocked at how different your team member saw  it.
    3. What are you reading this week?

    • http://www.timpeters.org/ Tim Peters

      Great questions, Joe. 

      • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

         Thanks Tim. Do you have any questions you would add to the list?

    • Jim Martin

      Joe, I really like your questions!

  • http://bbcjc.com/ Randy Dignan

    Great article!  I immediately thought of how many times you see the question mark after the many Words of Christ!  Jesus answered many questions with questions and was never afraid of the dead air!  I sure love the article!  Thank you much!

    • Jim Martin

      Randy, you are so right!  Jesus had a way of asking the kind of questions that challenged others to wrestle with the heart of a particular matter.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Yes, Jesus is such a great example of this.

  • http://blog.higherpixels.com/ Brian

    I think one of the most important things to do after asking these questions is to think “gray.” 

    Steven Sample, former president of USC, had this great book for leaders called “The Contrarian Guide to Leadership,” and in it he talked about the difference between managers and leaders. Managers are often valued with how quickly they can react to the new data (answers) they get from their customers/employees, but leaders should practice slower, more measured responses.

    As humans, we seem to strive for a black & white sort of world where the questions we ask and the answers we seek are simple and straightforward. The art of practicing “gray” thinking though, encourages us to think more freely about the data being retrieved before making a conclusion.

    Great article! Thanks for sharing!

    • Rachel Lance

      Love his thoughts on grey thinking! And I can definitely see how that concept would help a person grow the ability to ask meaningful questions.

  • Shawn Callahan

    I met a senior leader of a bank and written in bold letters of his notebook was “DON’T ASK WHY.” He said that when he asks Why? people get defensive. But by asking all the other types of questions “Why” emerges.

    • Rachel Lance

      Very interesting rule. Seems like a great addition to the onion peeling illustration.

  • http://www.liveitforward.com/ Kent Julian

    I have found “if only” questions to be great focusing questions in leadership. For instance:

    1. If you could change only one thing in our organization, what would it be?

    2. If you could target only one customer, who would it be?

    3. If you could invest your life in only one pursuit, what would it be?

    • Rachel Lance

      I like your idea, Kent. It’s a helpful framework for building a stronger question-asking muscle. Thanks!

      • http://www.liveitforward.com/ Kent Julian

        “Stronger question-asking muscle” – I like that phrasing, Rachel!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      These are very good, Kent. Thank you for sharing.

      • http://www.liveitforward.com/ Kent Julian

        Thanks for starting this discussion, Michael. Excellent!

  • http://uma-maheswaran.blogspot.com/ Uma Maheswaran S

    Mike! I have seen in my experience that anyone who wants to grow as a great leader must be walking towards wisdom. In order to succeed in that objective, he/she must learn to ask profound questions always.  I feel putting the right question is a great plus for a leader.

  • http://relationships-relationshiptips.blogspot.com/ Njut Tabi Godlove

    just the right article for me at the right time. getting into a new career. it never gets better. http://rhapsody-of-realities.blogspot.com

  • http://www.creativehogg.com/ Josh Hogg

    This post could be the some of the most valuable to beginning and veteran professionals alike.

    I especially like the suggestion contained in #4 – Seeing how many times you can ask questions without commenting. This is so important to a leader, not to mention a service provider. It allows you to find both sides of the story before you pick a direction; and it helps make sure you understand everything you need to go forward.

    One of the biggest parts of my job is assumptions. Everything I do is based off assumptions, and when I give someone the results of my work, I explicitly state my assumptions to them, so there is no confusion. Often, most of the work is evaluating what assumptions to make (do we be conservative or not?).

    And finally, one of the best things for questions I find is directing them at certain people, to make sure the introverts give their input. Introverts aren’t necessarily shy, they are just thoughtful people that think in their mind rather than out loud like most extroverts. This can create a problem when the extroverts are all speaking and brain storming and the introvert gets no input because this isn’t his thought process. A well directed question at an introvert will ‘quiet’ the extroverts, long enough for him/her to speak.

  • http://traceembry.com/ Joshua Wallace

    As a leader I am constantly challenged with knowing how to ask the right questions. Often times I forget this important concept. Great post! Thanks for a practical reminder!

  • http://twitter.com/PepperVA_Grace PepperVA_Grace

    Practicing these seven suggestions, would take time
    depending on each leader’s personality.
    Based on my experience, I would always make a habit of asking open ended
    questions and to ask follow-up questions. I believe that once you apply these
    seven suggestions effectively, you can communicate more with your colleagues,
    bridging the gap and to feel better as a leader. 

  • Katy Field

    “How would you define your different constituencies in this group you’re trying to work with?” seems to elicit enlightening responses for my high school students and for me as I try to teach them experientially about leadership through the medium of a group collaborative endeavor. I tend to ask this question when they come to me one-on-one because they’re frustrated with trying to collaborate without an auhoritarian in charge. Usually I learn something about how they see each other, and they realize there’s an untapped group of people who could potentially be turned into allies more easily than the 1 or 2 people who were causing them the most consternation.

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  • Al Weinberg

    What’s so good if we do this? And. What’s so bad I’d we don’t?

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  • http://www.halfabubbleout.com/ Natasha Hawkins

    At Half a Bubble Out we often ask “Is that helpful, or has this been helpful for you?”  If something we said or did wasn’t helpful to a client or co-worker then we missed our target. Questions are treated like gold at HaBO, great blog! http://www.halfabubbleout.com/blog

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  • Janice

     I have found that by regularly asking “What tools do you need to do your job better?” and “How may I support you?” demonstrate a leader’s commitment. Especially when there is a commitment to hear and then act.

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  • Erwin Pfuhler

    I have heard the first time about powerful question from Charles M. Savage (5th Generation Management). Luckily he lives in Munich, Germany and I met him at a Toastmasters meeting. There is one point I miss in your compilation. It is motivation and inspiration. These two aspects, at least one of them should be tackled by a powerful question. The hard part is applying this knowledge in a natural manner while being in a conversation. Thanks for sharing your insights with us!

  • http://www.think2ool.com/ Scott Pickard

    The Art of the Good Question: 
    the right content,
    asked in the right way, 
    at the right time

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  • Rafi Qallander

    The main point is giving importance to the questioner’s question. Although i am freshman in university but when i was in 1oth one of my teacher have told me that :”the more you are listening to someone, the more you pursuing him to talk.” i have always tried to look and keep aye contact with the person who is talking to me from which i found a special attention of speaker even if i don’t know too. I really like it and it contains more things special.

  • http://sacramentolocalseo.blogspot.com/ Jay Williams

    As a business leader, community leader and a father, I am constantly challenged with knowing how to deal with all sorts of different types of people and personalities and ask the right
    questions the right way is more then half the battle. Often times I find myself forgetting the importance of concept in the question. Also to use the good old KISS system.

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