I’m so tired of hearing the ridiculous bit of advice repeated by some communication “experts” to ask a lot of questions as a way to get people to talk about themselves, their favorite subject.” I wrote about this narrow-minded view of conversation- which was popularized by Dale Carnegie -in What Do I Say Next? However, it’s flat-out wrong.
When you ask questions as a means of communicating, you get answers but only to a limited range of the areas of your specific questions. And therein lies the danger. What you miss is access to a wider range of shared information, insights, ideas, problems and stories that yields bigger ideas, greater innovation, more opportunities and better solutions.
Because conversation is organic, it starts in one place and, as we add incidental, impromptu thoughts and stories, it moves and grows in ways that are unplanned.
Because conversation is a duologue™—a back and forth exchange, not strictly based on a list of questions designed to have “someone talk about their favorite subject… themselves”, when we actually converse, you may hear someone say something that was not in your “plan” but provides an insight that is illuminating.
Because conversation is tangential, sticking to the point or pointed question delimits the range of subjects, insights, thoughts that could trigger “aha!” moments and solutions to issues and problems. “Free range” conversation contributes to serendipity; the unplanned benefits that expand our thinking and our universe.
Grill Food, Not People
Asking a lot of questions does not constitute a conversation. It more resembles a grilling, an interrogation or, at best, an interview—none of which are conversations. Research at Harvard was featured in a Fortune magazine that focused on power and questions, or more specifically, questioners. In Face To Face I shared the findings of the professor, who discovered that, contrary to popular opinion, the person who asks many questions is not the power communicator because they “give up the stage to the answerer”. Hence, they give up power.
It’s my experience that those whose practice it is to ask questions, ask one that is inappropriate. They then have to invest the time to “recover” from the faux pas. What I found works is being open, sharing information, stories, observations and ideas. That invites others to comfortaby respond in kind and the conversation is on its way!
When we allow for natural exchanges and bring our OAR™, mixing questions with observations and revelations and listening to -and inviting -others to share their stories, we will hear more, learn more, have more moments of serendipity, and have a wider base with which to connect and relate.
- Have a focus: a list of items to discuss
- Don’t play your cards closely to the vest: it’s a conversation NOT a poker game.
- LISTEN attentively NOT ONLY to what’s being said, but HOW it’s being said
- IF you are too guarded, you don’t get the benefit of the brainstorming
- Make sure your network has the savvy people who hear what you don’t say.
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