Using Questions Well

Using Questions Well

In this week’s HW Show episode, we talked about coaching and particularly what makes for a good question when you’re in the Investigator role.

In our Conference Alumni Community of Practice, we were talking about using customer research tools to improve stakeholder relationships. We discussed good customer interview questions and especially how to ask “why” without using the word “why.”

What’s wrong with why?

In natural conversation, it’s common to ask “why” questions, even big existential ones. Unfortunately, starting with “why” can make the person you’re asking feel defensive. To avoid this, try replacing your “why” questions with “what” or “how” questions that will communicate curiosity rather than challenge.

“Why?” can be about causes or about effects. Try asking “what” questions that directly address the cause, such as “What caused you to do that?” or “What happened right before you did that?” Or try asking about desired effects like, “What would that feature enable you to do?” or “What would change for you if you had that feature?” or “How would you know if that was successful?”

Changing the habit of starting “why” questions to start with “what” or “how” takes practice, but leads to much better answers. And often, it improves relationships, too, as people feel like you’re on their side and interested in their opinions and needs.

This week’s not-so-key idea:

Richard assumes there’s a vigorous debate on which of the three Meg Ryan/Tom Hanks movies is the best. He shared this hot take during the community session: “Joe vs the Volcano is the first and far away the best of the three Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan movies—honestly, I don’t know why people like Sleepless in Seattle so much…” The rest of us are slightly less opinionated about this debate. How about you?

Related…Product People, don’t be the luggage salesman from the movie. Sales People, watch and learn!

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