When a question is the answer

My new book comes out on February 7th. It’s called Power Questions: Build Relationships, Win New Business, and Influence Others.

Why a book about questions?

Good questions challenge your thinking. They reframe and redefine the problem. They throw cold water on our most dearly-held assumptions, and force us out of our traditional thinking. They motivate us to learn and discover more. They remind us of what is most important in our lives.

I'll give you a simple example: A few years ago, I was having lunch with the chairman and managing partner of a large professional services firm. The conversation about my consulting work with his company had pretty much run dry, and our conversation then ranged over many topics, including the state of the economy and the progress of our various children. After a silence, I turned to him and asked, "You've been in this role now for several years. What part of your job do you wish you could spend more time on. And which parts do you wish you could spend less time on?" That question led to a one-hour discussion about his leadership style, his organization structure, and what he was really passionate about as a CEO. It also led directly to some significant organizational changes that he later made once he had reflected on our conversation. Changes that he asked me to help advise on.

We're not bold enough about asking thought-provoking questions. We tend to ask boring questions, or informational questions (“How’s business?”), or no questions at all—we just talk at the other person and try to impress them with our brilliance.

For the first time, I’ve made a short video about this book. You can view it here: Build Relationships with Power Questions by Andrew Sobel and Jerold Panas. I guarantee it will make you smile if not laugh out loud.

Think back to conversations you’ve had where you really learned something about yourself or a problem you were facing. Was it because someone gave you brilliant advice? Or was it because someone asked you some thought-provoking questions? The fact is, usually we know what our options are. More often than not, what really turns our thinking around—what helps us see our issues from a new light—is a well-chosen question.

Einstein wrote, "If I had to save the world, I would spend 55 minutes defining the problem and five minutes solving it." The main tool for defining problems is asking thoughtful questions.

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