Are You Asking the Right Questions?

The summer after high school, I had a job with a market-research firm doing intercept interviewing—that’s where you approach people at the mall (or somewhere like that) and ask them questions about a particular product.  I generally enjoyed the work, and I learned a couple things about effectively asking questions that I still find useful in my work today.

The first is, when you’re wrapping up an interview, but you want to elicit more information from your subject in an open-ended way, don’t ask, “Anything else?” but instead ask, “What else?” It’s funny; I was reminded of this tip while getting sliced turkey, because at the deli, they never ask, “Anything else?” but instead, “What else?” or otherwise phrase the question in a way that suggests there may indeed be something else you want. It works for the deli (trust me), and it works for me.

The second tip is to ask people what they mean. Oftentimes when I’m talking to a client, they’ll describe something as “good,” or “quality,” or “professional.” In order to serve them better, I want to know what those descriptors mean to them. So, just as I did with my subjects at the mall, I ask them questions like, “Can you tell me what you mean by ‘good’?” or “Can you tell me what you mean by ‘professional’?” Pushing clients a little to break down the terms they use can provide greater clarity on what they’re really looking for and how they can really differentiate themselves.

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