05 October 2010

The power of asking questions

Corporate communications is a trade with many branches. We are experts on media use, on advertising, on brand and reputation management. We invent concepts, write stories, deal with the press, provide project communication and change communication and the list goes on and on. But, today, I want to focus on a subject that is often forgotten. A subject that we own or don’t own as a department, depending on the organization: personal communications skills.

In past jobs, I often helped employees develop their own communication skills. During the years, it became very clear to me that many communication problems are caused by the simple fact that we talk in statements. Very often we assume that someone else said something. So, in a conversation,
I make a statement to my fellow communicator. She assumes to know what I said and makes a statement back. This goes on and on, very often with frustrating results. The situation becomes worse if this conversation is an email conversation instead of a personal meeting, as we then also loose the power of non-verbal communication.

To my own amazement I found out that the answer to these communication problems is very simple: learn to ask questions. A question connects straight away. A question opens up the possibility for dialogue. A questions shows that you are interested, but most of all, a question gives you the opportunity to check if your own statement is indeed in line with what the other said. The best question of them all is: what do you need? This question is open. It opens up the opportunity to say what he or she really wanted to say: the real need behind the statement. This is very often the real problem and often has to do with emotions like concern, fear, rejection, insecurity, anger.

By asking this question, the other has to formulate what their real need is. That, in return, gives you the opportunity to do something about it. Sounds simple? Yes it is, but we very, very often forget to do this. Listening is probably the most underestimated communication skill of them all. So, next time you come across a communication problem: ask a question! Or, to stay in character, and ask a question: do you believe in the power of questions too?

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