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Why Brilliant Questions are Powerful Training Tools

I first became aware of the power of questions a couple of decades ago when I was visiting one of my sisters who lived in a small farming community. At the end of the trip, my sister told me that I needed to come back any time I needed an ego-boost because all her friends thought I was gorgeous and brilliant. While both attributes surprised me (and, yes, pleased me), I couldn’t figure out what I had done that was so brilliant.

My sister had to explain that I asked good questions. Questions that made people think about things in new ways and from new viewpoints. Questions they hadn’t thought to ask. They seemed like perfectly normal questions to me, but the questions showed an interest in the person and made me look brilliant because this small, isolated community had not thought to ask the questions themselves.

The art of asking good questions

Questions are powerful tools for trainers, for coaches, for managers, for everyone, if the right kinds of questions are asked. What are the right-kinds of questions? I would suggest that good questions cause yourself and others to imagine different circumstances and connections. They also appeal to people’s subconscious and not just their conscious brain by connecting feelings and facts, past and present, present and future. They might widen people’s thinking and even make worlds larger, or they might focus people’s thinking and help them narrow endless possibilities into action.

Our brains can’t help but answer a question when it is asked. Have you ever revealed more than you meant to simply because someone asked you a direct question? It is hard not to answer a question that is asked, and we should use this to our advantage as well as to the advantage of the people we coach, manage, and train.

Sometimes when we ask “why,” we get surface answers rather than the deeper answer we were seeking. Speaker Tony Robbins talks about asking yourself “Why am I fat?” Most often the response is something simple like “because I’m a lazy slob” or “just because I am.” On the other hand, if you ask yourself “How can I lose weight?” your brain will figure out how to get it done.  “Why did you do that?” can be difficult to answer. “How did that happen?” is much easier and often uncovers the why without why being asked.

I have also been seeing a lot about “two-footed questions” in blogs. I didn’t understand what was two-footed about them until I went back to the person who first came up with the term, Dr. Ellen Weber of Multiple Intelligence Teaching Approaches (MITA).

Two-footed questions relate to the participant (that’s one foot), and to the topic (that’s the other foot). It’s the difference between asking “What happened during the Civil War?” and “What happened in the Civil War that affects you and your family today?” The first relates simply to the topic while the second relates to the topic and the person, giving a reason for the person to care about the topic.

Some two-footed questions related to contact centers might include,

  • How do AHT goals impact what you do on a call?
  • If you were the customer, what would you want to happen on that call? How could you have made that happen for this customer? (instead of “Why didn’t you do that?” which is confrontational and difficult to answer)
  • When you were first released from training to take calls, what were some of your struggles? How could that struggle have been reduced?
  • Think about a learning experience that has stuck in your memory. What made it memorable? How can you use that to make this learning experience memorable?

I have two speaking/training events I am preparing for over the next several months. One is at ICMI’s Contact Center Expo in May where I will be speaking on “Training that Impacts Performance.” The other is at ICMI’s June Symposium in Alexandria, VA, where I am the instructor for ICMI’s 2-day Trainer Development Workshop. As I prepare for each of these, I am going to give my questions a fresh look to see how I can ask more effective questions. Questions that focus on how rather than why and questions that connect the person with the topic.

What are some different questions you can ask to be brilliant as a trainer, as a coach, as a supervisor, or as a manager?