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Establish trust with great questions 

By David Tovey 


The word ‘why’ seems to be one of the first words children learn. Any parent will have experienced their successive answers being followed by yet another “why”! We really shouldn’t complain when we hear all those “whys” because it belies a curiosity and a genuine desire for understanding. Sometime it even forces us to think about a subject more fully before we try to explain.
In the business world – and especially in business development – most of us could do with getting better at asking questions in a childlike manner. Research suggests that asking insightful questions is the number one sales skill. Why? Because, by doing it, you’re demonstrating respect to your customers and clients by taking time to learn about their world. Many of us love the chance to talk about what is important to us, and if you give others that chance, they will love you for it. What do you get from it? A deeper, richer understanding of your client and therefore, a deeper, richer understanding of how you might be able to help them in the future.

Integrity Alert!

Asking great questions is extremely powerful, but only if it’s done with integrity. Questioning can be manipulative, and if the customer feels like it is, trust will be lost. Children ask questions because they genuinely want to know. Be childlike.


Good questioning skills are invaluable in many business environments - recruitment, appraisals, engaging with your team – the ability to ask great questions will help you be seen as an advanced communicator. In business development, if you do nothing else, ask great questions.


When you are networking – get over the fear of what to say, or how awkward you feel – by asking questions. When you meet potential clients, explore their world. When you are offering potential solutions, check that you are on track. When you are executing the project, ask if it’s going well? When the project is finished, ask for feedback.


Having said that questioning is a great skill to have, it’s astonishing how few people really take time to hone their technique. This is particularly true of TV interviewers, who are so bad they make me cringe. If you want advice on how NOT to ask questions, watch most chat shows, sports interviews or news reports.

What do they do wrong?

 - Closed questions – which can be answered with a yes or no. If you get an uncooperative interviewee, that’s what they’ll answer. I vividly remember a BBC reporter interviewing Andy Murray at Wimbledon, and he simply answered yes or no to her rambling,closed questions. Embarrassing for everyone. Some interviewees might give a little more, but it’s up to the questioner to ask better questions!

- Leading questions – “do you think that..” “you must believe that..”
- Multiple questions – there are so many parts to the question that only one will get answered.
- “Show-off” questions – all about the interviewer trying to prove his or her knowledge of the subject.

So how should it be done?

I keep six honest serving-men (They taught me all I knew);

Their names are What and Why and When And How and Where and Who.

 - Rudyard Kipling, Just So Stories (for children!)

The other thing to keep in mind is TED!

T ell me more about..
E xplain..
D escribe...


There have been some fantastic people who have helped me by asking great questions. Some have been managers or colleagues, who coached and mentored me. Some have been friends, who helped me through difficult times by asking questions and helping me move forward. Some have been potential suppliers who, through skillful questioning, helped me understand my organisation even better; who made me feel I had a potential trusted adviser who could help me address my challenges.
They are memorable because they asked and listened.

David Tovey is Development Director of Sterling Growth Hub, an international speaker, consultant, coach and author.

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