20 June 2024

The art of asking

Did you really want to be a lawyer or are you just really bad at maths?

Not everyone knows how to ask good questions. A good questioner knows that it’s all in the preparation. Be intentional. Choose your words with purpose and make sure you’re asking at an appropriate time. Before you launch into asking your question, think carefully about why you’re asking it, and what you hope to learn from the response.

You’ll never get the answer you’re looking for if you don’t know why you’re asking.

The Importance of Asking Better Questions

Every interaction you have as an in-house lawyer is an opportunity to uncover insights and build stronger relationships. To get the most out of these interactions, it’s important to ask questions that make the other person feel understood and valued. When people feel safe and not judged, they are more likely to drop their defences and share openly.

Creating a Space for Authenticity

When we talk about authenticity, we mean creating a place where people feel comfortable being themselves. They can do so without fear. Fear often leads to deflection. This can be through humour, theory, or giving the answers they think you want to hear. By understanding this, you can create an environment where authenticity thrives.

Tips for Asking Better Questions

Aim to understand: Approach each talk with the goal of understanding the perspective of the person in front of you. This mindset shift alone can transform the quality of your questions and the responses you receive.

Keep It Short and Simple: Good questions are short and to the point. Avoid long-winded preambles or qualifiers that can confuse the main point of your inquiry.

Challenge Comfort Zones: Don’t shy away from questions that are a bit challenging or unconventional. For example, instead of asking the usual work-related questions, try asking, “What’s something you’ve failed at?” or “What is something you’ve changed your mind about in the last year, and what prompted the change?”

Encourage Self-Reflection: Use techniques like the ‘Five Whys’ to delve deeper into responses. For example, if someone mentions a challenge, ask ‘Why is that?’ and continue probing to uncover the root cause.

Practicing Authentic Engagement

Let’s put this into practice. Take a moment to reflect on how you deflect when faced with a tough question. Do you use humour, share a story, or try to change the subject? Understanding your own deflection mechanisms can help you better recognise them in others and steer the conversation back to authenticity.

Next time you’re in a meeting or interview, try this: ask a question you wouldn’t typically ask, something that requires a bit more vulnerability. It might be awkward at first, but it can lead to more meaningful and revealing conversations.