Listening and Questioning

Listening and Questioning

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The ability to effectively listen and ask questions is a fundamental talent for all positions within the workplace. In certain positions, this becomes a key competence for career success.

Despite its significance, ambiguities are common because individuals make assumptions based on little knowledge or simply fail to ask the appropriate questions.

The professional must possess excellent questioning and listening abilities. Having these two abilities will offer you an advantage in negotiations.

In this article, we will cover the nine essentials for developing questioning and listening skills. First, we’ll examine why these abilities are vital and how you may use them to secure amazing deals during conversations.

This article should equip you with the required questioning and listening skills to assess and manage every discussion!

Active Listening Is An Skill

Listening is a cognitive, purposeful and intuitive activity that demands focus. Instead of waiting to talk, you must listen carefully to completely comprehend the other person. Remember that there is no use in asking a question if you do not intend to properly listen to the response!

Active or complete listening entails putting aside all other thoughts and acknowledging the speaker so they know you are paying attention and value what they have to say. Understanding and valuing do not imply agreement; active listening is particularly important in conflict or disagreement situations when, if the other side thinks you understand their perspective, a cooperative atmosphere can be developed, increasing the likelihood of resolving the dispute.

Active listening is a method of listening and reacting that is systematic.

Key Skills For Active Listening 

  • Listen with your whole body:

Face the other person and use an open posture to establish rapport 

Use eye contact and facial gestures to demonstrate your attention 

Be still and resist fidgeting

  • Let the other person do the talking: 

Be quiet and actively encourage the other person to talk; promote their willingness to communicate; 

Avoid interrupting; 

Avoid pre-judging what’s being said (rather, make sure you focus on understanding precisely what the speaker means); o

Avoid starting to think about your answer or response (wait until the speaker has finished – active listening is hard work and needs 100% of your concentration); 

Don’t finish their sentences or fill in the blanks – no matter how tempting! 

  • Notice non-verbal communication ie, body language, tone and pitch of the voice – listen for feelings and emotions3 as much as facts and words. 
  • Be comfortable with silence. Staying silent gives time and opportunity for the speaker to share extra information. It may feel odd initially, but you will be amazed how often more information emerges after a moment’s silence. 
  • Listen inquisitively and strategically: 
  1. Inquisitive Listening – actively looking for interesting ‘bits’ of information in what is being said that will help formulate a solution or answer; 
  2. Strategic Listening – going beyond the words to understand the speaker’s real motivations and driving forces and/or needs. This involves listening ‘between the lines’ and hearing the things that were ‘not said’ as well as those that were. 
  • Use questions effectively 
  • Reflect back on the information you receive to illustrate your understanding and provide opportunities for clarification. Use paraphrasing, acknowledgement and reflective statements. 

Avoid These Common Mistakes While Listening

Some common mistakes made by people who think they are actively listening, but aren’t really, include: 

  • Cursory listening; just going through the motions but the listener is either multi-tasking or not really interested in what’s being said. 
  • Shallow listening; the listener believes they already know what the speaker is leading to and already knows the answer or what they are going to say next. 

This type of listening is often underpinned by arrogance and the listener fails to hear what is actually being said. 

Active listening takes time and focus to achieve; used effectively it opens up a whole new level on which to communicate and build relationships.

What is Effective Questioning? How Can We Improve the art of asking questions?

Albert Einstein said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.” 

Far too many people focus on having the “right answer” rather than discovering the “right question”. 

In Germany, the job title Direktor Grundsatzfragen translates as “Director of Fundamental Questions.” These are the people who are always thinking about what the next questions will be. The German understanding and appreciation of Grundsatzfragen stem from a culture that highly values philosophy and the ongoing questioning of priorities and the meaning of life. We can all benefit from adopting this approach to thinking, which makes asking effective questions a key skill to develop.

 A powerful question has the power to—

  • generate curiosity in the listener 
  • stimulate reflective conversation 
  • is thought-provoking 
  • bring underlying assumptions to the surface 
  • invite creativity and new possibilities 
  • generates energy and forward movement 
  • channels attention and focuses inquiry 
  • stays with participants 
  • touches a deep meaning 
  • evokes more questions. 

It has the capacity to spread beyond the place where it began into larger networks of conversation throughout an organization or a community. 

Powerful questions that travel well are often the key to large-scale change. But this is not straightforward; whilst asking and answering questions is part of everyday conversation for all of us and we might think that questioning is a natural skill that we all possess; it is not as easy as we assume. 

Types Of Questions

Questions need to be designed to help the other person reach a conclusion, or to provide information and insights helpful to the discussion. 

There is a range of question types that can be used for different purposes. Some questions provide structure, others direct flow, and some help us to reach closure. Question types include: 

  1. Open questions, to gather information and facts, for example “What are your concerns and worries about this situation?” 
  2. Probing questions, to gain additional detail, e.g. “Can you explain why that matters?” 
  3. Hypothetical questions, to suggest an approach or introduce new ideas. An example might be “If you could get additional funding or resources, how might that help?” 
  4. Reflective questions, to check to understand, such as “So would you prioritise the most critical areas for attention first and make sure that everyone knew what was most important?” 
  5. Leading questions, to help a person reach a conclusion or have an ‘idea’ that you feel will be beneficial; a few well-planned questions can very often lead the person towards the idea and instead of responding to your request, they have their idea of how to help you be more successful. 
  6. Deflective questions to defuse an aggressive or defiant situation by redirecting the force of the other person’s attack instead of facing it head-on. ‘Attacks’ are synonymous with dissatisfaction, insubordination or resistance and prevent you from moving forward. 

Dealing with a strong objection by responding with similar force creates conflict. Deflective questions help to transform the negative situation into a collaborative problem-solving occasion. 

Some examples include 

Dissatisfaction: I’m not happy with this project! 

Response: What can WE do to make it right? 

Insubordination: I have major concerns. I won’t do it! 

Response: How can WE address your concerns? 

Resistance: I disagree with the approach! 

Response: If you were to do it, what would be your approach?

  1. Closing questions, to bring agreement, commitment and conclusion, e.g. “When will you talk to your team and the client about this?”

REMEMBER QUESTIONS ARE NOT NEUTRAL!

Asking ‘leading questions’ when you are seeking information closes off options; whereas asking ‘open questions’ when you are intending to move a person towards the conclusion you want them to reach can be counterproductive.

Hypothetical, reflective and leading questions help generate ideas, motivate people and develop insights, they are particularly useful when leading knowledge workers. Other question sets are designed to gather information. To be effective, you need to know the objectives of the questions you are asking and then design the questions to support the objective.

(Source: Mosaic’s White Paper on Listening and Questioning)

9 Steps to Effective Questioning and Listening

When it’s time to be silent and listen, you’ll need to train your ears to absorb what the other party is saying so that you may obtain significant information when necessary. There are approximately nine important phases to good listening and asking the proper questions.

  1. Listening through Body Language

Body language reveals whether you are interested in hearing what another person has to say. While sitting quietly and facing the other party, do so comfortably while facing them. When asking inquiries that confirm or echo what the other party has said, nod your head. Sit upright and make eye contact with the other individual. When the other side is attempting to communicate with you, never slouch.

  1. Posing Brief Questions

Short replies correspond to short questions. And shorter responses allow you to pose more questions. While discussions require time, it also helps to be straightforward. With shorter questions, you can generate additional inquiries throughout the negotiation.

  1. Asking Meaningful Questions

Why ask irrelevant questions during discussions? Given that the other party may be attempting to waste your time. This is one bargaining strategy that dishonest communicators may employ to obtain information from you. When posing questions, prioritise those that are crucial to the negotiations. Anything else should be ignored unless it is a subject of extreme importance.

  1. Listening attentively via  Reiterating the Statement / Issue

Reiterating what the other party has just stated is an additional indicator that you were attentive. This is also known as reflecting. You can utilise this when asking a clarification-required question.

  1. Posing Unrestricted Open Questions

During discussions, you might obtain additional details by asking open-ended questions. This also aids in assessing the other party. For example, you can measure the disposition of each member of the opposing party by posing an open-ended inquiry. This has already provided you with a great deal of information.

  1. Concentrating with No Distractions

During talks, the only time you can listen attentively is when no one else is speaking. Do not converse with your teammate when an opposing team member is speaking. Not only is not listening attentively considered disrespectful and unprofessional, but you may also miss critical information. Find a location that is devoid of distractions. A family restaurant is not an appropriate setting for a serious dialogue.

  1. Leaving Room For Silence

The only way to truly listen is to be silent. When someone else is speaking to you or to everyone, silence is your ally. Everyone gets an opportunity to speak, so be silent, listen for anything fascinating, and allow the other party or a teammate to complete their sentence.

  1. Asking as a Habit

Effective communication abilities are always rooted in habit. Therefore, always ask questions before, during, and after discussions. If you do not feel comfortable asking questions, you will rely on someone else to do it on your behalf. And this is rarely a good sign if you wish to enhance your negotiating skills!

  1. Asking a Question Without Interruptions

Please do not interrupt someone who is asking inquiries. If you permit them to ask the question directly, they will reciprocate when it is your team’s chance to ask inquiries.

A Key Component In Listening & Questioning: Staying Grounded

Getting better at listening and asking questions will help you to see that many so-called “solutions” have little to do with giving a client value and more to do with making them feel better. Whether in a major multinational corporation or a small startup, unconscious dynamics frequently hinder a group’s ability to solve challenges effectively and efficiently. This hinders the group’s ability to promptly deliver value to clients.

These abilities assist in acquiring a higher capacity to maintain composure when your team is unable to solve a challenge. We are less likely to pursue something like a solution simply to feel as though the issue has been remedied. Although asking questions when facing the pressures of product development and delivery or validating a business idea can feel like pulling on a thread that will unravel the entire sweater, the ability to “hold” anxiety and continue exploring the issue at hand invariably yields more useful and actionable results.

In some cases, a team would try to come up with a solution for a problem that didn’t exist yet. Listening and asking questions can help you figure out why new processes are being pushed for. For example, the team had been unfairly blamed for past failures, and the new processes are a way to stop this from happening again.

Armed with this knowledge, you will be able to collaborate with a senior manager to minimise the blame culture, promote psychological safety, and create a more cohesive and productive workplace.

How?

By asking questions and listening to the problems and aspirations of all interested parties. Conversely, wherever management failed to address the blame culture, the additional processes that were developed to prevent problems increased workload and lengthened delivery times with minimal increases in product quality, risk management, and client satisfaction.

When individuals are questioned about their methods of operation, they may become defensive. Defensiveness is a crucial indicator. It could be an indication that the individual’s psychological safety has been compromised. If you feel defensive in response, it may be because you are attempting to push an agenda. Proceed with caution if you choose to continue.

To improve your listening skills, you should become comfortable with silence when it occurs during a conversation. You can identify emotions amid silence in meetings. Occasionally it is thoughtful and reflective. Sometimes it may contain uncertainty, anxiety, or frustration. Being sensitive to this emotional tint can lead to insightful realisations.

Many of us still find it challenging to truly listen to another person’s perspective. Too often, you may find yourself not listening as well as you could, typically due to your desire to promote your own agenda.

Just be AWARE!

As contradictory as these techniques may appear, they are, to date, some of the most effective strategies I have encountered for supporting significant, long-lasting change that accelerates the delivery of customer value.

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