The key skill of the effective networker is the ability to ask relevant and intelligent questions. Conversations are made up of 2 areas; the small talk which builds relationships and rapport and discussions about peoples’ business and their careers.
But before we delve into questioning techniques, let me highlight the other side of the communication scales. This of course is the listening side which is far far more difficult than the actual questioning. Transmitting is far easier to control than receiving. People will often give others ‘a good talking to’ but when do we think consciously ‘let me give you a good listening to’? We can so easily be distracted by others when we attend events and how many times have we realised the other person has lost interest in us? They start to look around the room, maybe surreptitiously look at their watch or raise their eyebrows. These little behaviours can have a massive effect on the relationship.
Your guidelines to asking questions
Before I suggest some questions please consider
- Don’t turn your questioning into an interrogation; make sure it is simply a conversation. Think fishing not harpooning!
- You will meet 2 types of people. People who are happy to share all sorts of facts with you; we call them the ‘high reactor’. Then there is the ‘low reactor’; the person who is cautious and maybe even suspicious of someone they’re meeting for the first time. You have to quickly identify which personality you’re conversing with.
- Concentrate on asking open-formatted questions which should start with the words “who, what, why, when, where, which and how”. Even the low reactor has you answer you in a sentence rather than just say ‘yes or ‘no’. They will do that sometimes if you ask ‘Do you…?’ ‘Can you…?’ ‘Are you…?’ etc.
- When someone says something you don’t understand or you want more information don’t pretend you know. Probe and clarify to discover more. Use 6 words to gain more information.
Tell (me what you mean) explain (how that works) describe (in more detail…). (“What do you mean by that) exactly?” “Where in particular does that fit into the equation?” “How specifically does it work?”
Some pointers to ensure you truly engage
- Ensure you ask the right questions in the right order. If you’re asking people about their business and or their career start with their present situation then move to their history and then ascertain what plans the business has say in the next 12 months.
- Learn to listen and not just wait! We so often miss golden nuggets when we do this. Pause after someone has given you an answer and talk in turn. When we feel confident in our knowledge and expertise we can often be too quick to want to share. I am one very guilty perpetrator of this crime. I am too impatient and often think I know what they are going to say!
- Be open-minded and don’t assume what is coming up. Treat everyone with the same respect even if you think you know far more about a topic than they do. Don’t use jargon unless you feel the other person will understand it and work hard at not being judgemental. Give people time to talk; people love talking about themselves; good networkers let them
- Remember everybody is somebody’s somebody so always show respect to the person you’re talking to and their opinions even if you don’t agree with them!
In his famous book How to Win Friends and Influence People Dale Carnegie summed up the best way to build rapport
“Let the other person do most of the talking. Be a good listener and encourage others to talk about themselves. “
A timeless quote…in my opinion.