This is GOOD News because we all want to build great relationship in every situation.
DON’T ASK, DON’T GET
“Be a good listener,” Dale Carnegie advised in his 1936 classic How to Win Friends and Influence People. “Ask questions the other person will enjoy answering.” More than 80 years later, most people still fail to heed Carnegie’s sage advice.
Research suggests that people have conversations to accomplish some combination of two major goals: information exchange (learning) and impression management (liking). Recent research shows that asking questions achieves both.
THE NEW SOCRATIC METHOD
The first step in becoming a better questioner is simply to ask more questions. Of course, the sheer number of questions is not the only factor that influences the quality of a conversation: The type, tone, sequence, and framing also matter.
The best approach for a given situation depends on the goals of the conversationalists—specifically, whether the discussion is cooperative (for example, the duo is trying to build a relationship or accomplish a task together) or competitive (the parties seek to uncover sensitive information from each other or serve their own interests), or some combination of both. Consider the following tactics.
FAVOR FOLLOW-UP QUESTIONS.
Not all questions are created equal. An unexpected benefit of follow-up questions is that they don’t require much thought or preparation—indeed, they seem to come naturally to interlocutors. In Alison’s studies, the people who were told to ask more questions used more follow-up questions than any other type without being instructed to do so.
KNOW WHEN TO KEEP QUESTIONS OPEN-ENDED.
No one likes to feel interrogated—and some types of questions can force answerers into a yes-or-no corner. Open-ended questions can counteract that effect and thus can be particularly useful in uncovering information or learning something new. Indeed, they are wellsprings of innovation—which is often the result of finding the hidden, unexpected answer that no one has thought of before.
Of course, open-ended questions aren’t always optimal. For example, if you are in a tense negotiation or are dealing with people who tend to keep their cards close to their chest, open-ended questions can leave too much wiggle room, inviting them to dodge or lie by omission.
If people feel that you are trying to trick them into revealing something, they may lose trust in you, decreasing the likelihood that they’ll share information in the future and potentially eroding workplace relationships.
GET THE SEQUENCE RIGHT.
The optimal order of your questions depends on the circumstances. During tense encounters, asking tough questions first, even if it feels socially awkward to do so, can make your conversational partner more willing to open up.
Of course, if the first question is too sensitive, you run the risk of offending your counterpart. So it’s a delicate balance, to be sure.
If the goal is to build relationships, the opposite approach—opening with less sensitive questions and escalating slowly—seems to be most effective.
USE THE RIGHT TONE.
People are more forthcoming when you ask questions in a casual way, rather than in a buttoned-up, official tone.
Peopleare twice as likely to reveal sensitive information on the casual-looking site than on the others.
People also tend to be more forthcoming when given an escape hatch or “out” in a conversation. For example, if they are told that they can change their answers at any point, they tend to open up more—even though they rarely end up making changes.
PAY ATTENTION TO GROUP DYNAMICS.
Conversational dynamics can change profoundly depending on whether you’re chatting one-on-one with someone or talking in a group. Not only is the willingness to answer questions affected simply by the presence of others, but members of a group tend to follow one another’s lead.
As soon as one person starts to open up, the rest of the group is likely to follow suit.
Group dynamics can also affect how a question asker is perceived. Alison’s research reveals that participants in a conversation enjoy being asked questions and tend to like the people asking questions more than those who answer them.
THE BEST RESPONSE
Just as the way we ask questions can facilitate trust and the sharing of information—so, too, can the way we answer them.
Answering questions requires making a choice about where to fall on a continuum between privacy and transparency. Should we answer the question? If we answer, how forthcoming should we be?
At the same time, transparency is an essential part of forging meaningful connections. Even in a negotiation context, transparency can lead to value-creating deals; by sharing information, participants can identify elements that are relatively unimportant to one party but important to the other—the foundation of a win-win outcome.
To maximize the benefits of answering questions—and minimize the risks—it’s important to decide before a conversation begins what information you want to share and what you want to keep private.
DECIDING WHAT TO SHARE.
There is no rule of thumb for how much—or what type—of information you should disclose. Indeed, transparency is such a powerful bonding agent that sometimes it doesn’t matter what is revealed—even information that reflects poorly on us can draw our conversational partners closer.
Before a conversation takes place, think carefully about whether refusing to answer tough questions would do more harm than good.
DECIDING WHAT TO KEEP PRIVATE.
Of course, at times you and your organization would be better served by keeping your cards close to your chest. In our negotiation classes, we teach strategies for handling hard questions without lying. Dodging, or answering a question you wish you had been asked, can be effective not only in helping you protect information you’d rather keep private but also in building a good rapport with your conversational partner, especially if you speak eloquently.
Another effective strategy is deflecting, or answering a probing question with another question or a joke. Answerers can use this approach to lead the conversation in a different direction.
“Question everything,” Albert Einstein famously said. Personal creativity and organizational innovation rely on a willingness to seek out novel information. Questions and thoughtful answers foster smoother and more-effective interactions, they strengthen rapport and trust, and lead groups toward discovery. All this we have documented in our research.
A version of this article appeared in the May–June 2018 issue (pp.60–67) of Harvard Business Review. and on Flipboard.