Now That’s a Great Question!

By Andrew J. Birol, President, Birol Growth Consulting, Inc.

Every time I hear someone say this to me, I smile. Why? Because a good question:

  1. Proves good listening,
  2. Demonstrates critical thinking, and
  3. Uses humor to soften a pointed probe.

The best questions force your respondents to better understand their condition, reply with honesty, and discover a bit of truth they did not otherwise accept. While the best questions are specific to a discussion with a prospect, client, employee, or vendor, some questions are timeless classics, applicable in any situation. Here are a few of my favorites:

  1. "Tell me about a situtation where you have failed and what it taught you." If they respond by saying they have never failed, ask them why they have set their goals so low.
  2. "If you know it isn’t working, why do you keep doing it?" The key here is to break through the person’s resistance or conventional thinking and start changing his perception of reality.
  3. "What is the one question you hope I don’t ask you?" This question, asked at the end of a discussion, often reveals hidden agendas or information you may have missed.
  4. "You are telling me this for a reason." When confronted with highly emotional individuals, this question coaxes from them the reasons they feel as they do.
  5. "If you were going to tell me this, what would you say?" As ridiculous as this sounds, an uncooperative person may just divulge confidential information if you let her speak next after delivering this question with a straight face.
  6. "What’s your best and highest use®?" While this is my trademarked, signature question, your version will provoke many people to ask you what you mean. So, develop your own icebreaker to engage anyone in a far more personal and revealing discussion.

Starting with Socrates and Plato, the art of questioning to gain knowledge, develop agreement, and communicate expectations is critical to any of the leadership roles you play.

Good questioning comes with practice, maturity, and business experience, but most of all through your growing confidence. As a business owner, learn to ask good questions. As your questions become better, next work on your timing, your ability to pause for an answer, and finally, on ways to control your environment in doing so.

Why should you ask great questions? If you need a final reason, just watch a rerun of the great TV master detective Colombo. Peter Falk made himself into a household name and turned the phrase "door knob question" into a buzz word, ending every show by asking "There’s just one more thing I don’t understand..."

Articles by Birol Growth Consulting are © copyrighted and all rights are reserved. However, articles may be reprinted with prior written consent if attribution is included as follows:

© Copyrighted by Andrew J. Birol, President of Birol Growth Consulting, who helps owners grow their businesses by growing their Best and Highest Use ®. Andy can be reached at  (412) 973-2080, by email at, or on the web at

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