One of the key traits of our evolution as humans—that which sets us apart from the other animals—is our ability to ask questions. Most of our educational structures are based on question-and-answer. Asking questions helps us learn about the world around us, solve problems and obtain key information. No one understands this concept better than trial lawyers because the entire outcome of a case might hang on how you frame a question to a witness. But asking great questions can also help you on the business side of your law firm—for example, in identifying the best marketing strategies for your firm or getting the best results from your employees. Much of your success hinges on the questions you ask your teammates, your mentors—and yourself.
Advantages of Asking Great Questions
Why is it so important to master the art of question-asking? Let’s explore some common benefits:
• Better questions get better answers. The manner in which you ask a question—from your wording to your body language—determines how useful or actionable the answer will be to you.
• The right questions will help you get more from your team. By engaging your employees and partners with great questions, you can mine amazing ideas while improving morale and motivation.
• Great questions promote personal and professional growth. Not only does asking the right questions help you chart a more successful course for your business and law practice—it enriches you as a person and expands your intelligence.
Practical Tips for Asking Better Questions
Notice we referred to question-asking as both an art and a science. The scientific part means there are proven ways to ask questions that will trigger better answers. However, there’s no set formula for how to ask questions because every question is uniquely based on context—and for that reason, you can only become better at asking questions by nurturing it as an art form over years of practice. That said, we can offer a few common-sense tips to help you frame questions better in your law firm.
• Ask questions that point to specific goals. Instead of generically asking “Which marketing strategy should we use?”, ask “Which marketing strategy will best help us reach our target market and generate more leads?”
• Ask questions that promote critical thinking instead of just opinions. Instead of “Is this strategy a good idea?”, try “What results might we expect from this strategy?”
• Use open-ended questions to promote brainstorming; use closed questions to “close the deal.” Lawyers often make the mistake of interrogating employees the way they interrogate witnesses in court, which causes them to instinctively withhold information. Instead of “Did you reach your contact quota this week?” ask “How are sales going?” or “Do you have any thoughts on how to close more business?” Avoid yes-or-no questions when fact-finding or gathering ideas; save those for when you’re looking for a firm commitment from an employee or a client.
One final tip: When you ask a question, listen to the answer. Remember, the question isn’t the end in itself—it’s the means to an end. Don’t just glean the information—listen to how the other person phrases things, watch body language (if you’re in person), etc. You may learn more from the nonverbal cues or what isn’t being said than what is actually said.