The people I meet often amaze me, but I’m no longer surprised that they amaze me, because I’ve learned that everyone has a story, all you have to do is ask the right questions and listen.
At a recent trip to a conference in Binghamton, Broome County, NY, I met an amazing woman from Falls Township, Pennsylvania. At the end of a busy day we found ourselves sat in the hotel bar waiting for others from our convention to join us. I had met Carolyn in previous years at the same convention, but we hadn’t really taken the time to talk. While I ordered drinks at the bar, playing on the TV in the background, were news reports from the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. As some of the historical footage was played, Carolyn commented “I was there.” I was amazed. I was fascinated. Naturally I wanted to know more, who wouldn’t? Carolyn went on to tell me about her campaigning for civil rights, the people she met, how she’d organised demonstrations and protests. She described how she learned to picket an official protest. I listened as she explained how she and her colleagues campaigned and picketed for local retailers to treat customers equally, black or white. I had to ask her one question in particular. “Tell me”, I asked “What motivated you?” I wanted to understand why Carolyn had not just stood by, but had decided to make a difference. Carolyn explained how she had grown up 1940’s America, the only Jewish girl at the University of Pennsylvania (class of ’49), and knew a little about prejudice. We talked for a while, actually most of the evening, I listened in admiration as Carlolyn told me more about her life, the causes she championed, the business she had run and some of her adventures. I loved hearing it all. I understood why she was motivated, it was in her blood, her conscience. She was that kind of person, she had to make a difference.
The next morning was a conference breakfast meeting, Carolyn came over first thing to say hello. “You know”, she said “I realised that no one had ever asked me what motivated me.”
That was the key. The unlocking question to reveal an amazing person. Since then I’ve learned to ask unlocking questions and found other amazing people.
Who knows what you will discover if you only take the time and ask.
Here is my guide to asking the questions that will help you find amazing people.
Open questions, we all know what they are, but often forget to use them effectively. Practice your “Who, what, why, where, when and how’ and especially your Tell, Explain or Describe questions. Always remember to use TED, let the other person speak and listen actively.
- Tell me what happened…?
- Explain how…?
- Describe what it felt like?
Be interested and ask inquisitive questions
Open questions work to stimulate conversation, but don’t just leave it there, be inquisitive.
- What exactly do you mean by…?
- How often did you…?
- What happened when you…?
A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer. Bruce Lee. (Now that’s a kick-ass quote,..really!)