How to Ask Questions

21 Jun

In an earlier blog post I asked the question, why are asking questions so difficult for so many people?  Without being redundant I explained that as children we were taught to answer questions, not to ask them. In my house growing up I heard things like; don’t ask so many questions; if we wanted you to know we would have told you; that’s none of your business; I’m busy now, go ask your mother; children should be seen and not heard; that’s an important person so don’t bother them; your opinion is not wanted; and a big one for me, Michael, don’t be so nosey! And let us not forget, “curiosity killed the cat!” What cat? Who’s cat? How did it die?

As children our minds were like sponges. With so much to see and so much to learn, it was natural to ask questions. We didn’t know about social norms. We didn’t know about being impolite. We were just curious.

So here we find ourselves many years later at some association meeting mingling with other people, who are there for the same reasons we are. We stand alone feeling this uncomfortable fear deep in the pit of our stomachs. Wanting to introduce ourselves to others but afraid. Afraid we won’t know what to say. Afraid we may be bothering the other person. Afraid they’ll find us not very interesting. Afraid that our voice may betray our nervousness. Not sure how to disengage. And always fearing a pregnant pause, where the conversation stops and you reach that embarrassing moment where you’re not sure what to say or do next.

So let us talk about overpowering our fear of walking up to a complete stranger at a social event, or a business networking mixer, and engaging them in a conversation. First thing to know is this; everyone there is there for the same reason you are, to meet new people. Either to make new business connections or to make new friends. The second thing to know is that almost everyone you do meet will be feeling the same fears as you. After all, we all grew up in similar dysfunctional families.

So here is what you must learn – to ask questions. Dale Carnegie tells us in his bestselling book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, to get the other person to talk about their favorite subject. And that is – themself. And it’s really not too hard.

If you are at an event where people are wearing name badges (always wear yours on the right) they should have the name of their employer or business under their name. Let’s say I walk up to Jonathon Rogers who works at Main Street Bank, this is what I would say and do: Hi Jonathon, my name is Michael Luckman as I reach out my hand. (Note: Don’t call him Jon or some nickname you called your cousin Jonathon when you were kids. Use what’s on their badge). Next: I see you’re with Main Street Bank. What do you do for them? When they answer you might then ask, How long have you been with Main Street? Then you might ask, Did you major in finance while in college? If they say no, I majored in Phys. Ed. You might respond, Well that’s a big change, so, how did you get into banking? Continue this questioning and play off what the other person says to you.

You see, this is not rocket science. All you’re doing is asking questions about the other person and getting them to talk about themselves. Don’t worry if they don’t ask you about yourself. They were probably just afraid. But here is what they’re thinking when you do disengage: “Wow, that person was really interesting. I like him.” And they’re talking about you.

With Love,

Michael

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