As a consultant of more than 20 years, many times I believe I know the answer to a problem without asking the question. After all, I have the experience!! That attitude has proven me wrong more times than I care to admit!! Therefore, I make it a practice to ask the question, even when I believe I know the answer. There are several reasons for this including:
- Giving the client the confidence that you are listening to their issues and concerns.
- Validating or changing your answers to keep your results accurate and to keep me from making the wrong assumptions that can result in increased time and budget.
- Learning is an ongoing pursuit and every time I ask, I learn.
Learning how to ask questions is even more important than the actual asking. Consider the following when asking questions:
Don’t ask leading questions
Leading questions assumes that you think you are right and just want the person to validate your assumption. Instead of starting the question with “Don’t you think we should?” try starting it with “What do you think we should do?”
Don’t ask either/or questions
Asking should we do A or B assumes those are the only options and shuts down the possibility of any other options or ideas that have not been considered. Instead, consider starting the question with “Here is the problem. What do you think we can do to solve it?”
Seek to understand
As a consultant, you are being paid to have all the answers. Asking questions can make it appear that you don’t have the answers, but if you phrase it right, it can build a stronger client relationship.
When you need clarification try asking the question in the following way:
“I think I understand, but let me make sure. I don’t want to miss anything, let me walk through it and you can tell me if I have it right.”
“I’m not sure what you are saying, but I want to, so would you go through it one more time?”
The key is to keep asking questions until you fully understand. If you don’t ask questions, you could be wasting everyone’s time and in the end, cause the client to believe they aren’t being heard.
Asking questions can be hard when you are the expert, however, I have found that the questions that are not asked are the ones that end up causing the most problems.