Being curious is a great asset and being brave, in addition to curious, allows the ability to be more creative and more successful.  This applies to personal as well as business.

One of the differences between a good and a great team is the teams willingness to ask and explore the questions that go far deeper than the usual surface level.

So what is the secret?  Well, no secret really you just need to be willing to dig really deep into the issue.  Define the issue with a specific question or series of questions.  If you are working with a client, the initial questions you ask will get you the top level information but what really helps you and your client is to ask follow-up questions that really get into your client’s mind.

Dive layer upon layer into the initial questions so you really understand your client’s situation or problem from a foundational level.   You want to identify the core problems not just the symptoms of that problem.

Another key is to prepare, prepare and prepare.  It bears repeating that you want to know as much as you can before you arrive to the client or team meeting.  The art of asking questions is to ask with intention. You probably won’t have a script of what questions you want to ask but you have an idea of the problems you want to address.  Be willing to jump to the more difficult questions when it’s appropriate.

Many people spend 10, 15, or even 20 minutes “warming up” the meeting with basic information questions that you can usually get from prior research on your own. However, in today’s business climate, if you do that, you will have the other side of the table checking their email and phones before you’re done warming the room up.  Another approach would be to develop a brief situation analysis which demonstrates to your team and client that there is a basic knowledge.  And, you can make sure all agree to the summary and premise before you start your more in depth questioning.

Say hello, and get your summary done as quickly as you feel necessary. Then, get right into solving their problem. Show them how you can help as quickly as you can.  It is important to keep in mind that not all cultures are the same so you will need to accommodate the culture as best you can. Which means that the initial conversation may require more time and be accepted and expected from your audience.

One other ingredient is courage. There are often going to be questions that will lead to uncomfortable answers for your client.  Allow the client to keep face and understand that these are difficult questions but they will lead all of you to a better understanding of the situation and be valuable in the long run.

Be courageous but try to ask the difficult questions anyway and be supportive so your clients knows the answers will benefit them long term. We are taught from an early age to not offend or bother people with tough questions, but if you want to bring the best value to your clients, you’ll have to set yourself apart by your willingness to do so. Courage and transparency are the two sides of the interaction that have to match up for real success.

Master these skills and you’ll find yourself a real master of asking questions – and getting the answers you need to be successful.