We’re taught always to ask great questions, but sometimes we are so busy asking questions that we forget to listen to the answers. Or we prevent the other person from talking while we ask another question. Or the other person goes silent on us, and we feel we have to ask another question to get the conversation flowing again.
Stop asking questions
From my work helping managers to conduct recruitment interviews, one of the things they often find hardest is to **stop** asking questions.
It’s so tempting to keep asking more questions to try to get the other person to talk more, but it rarely works that way. Each new question will typically just get another short answer, until your conversation ends up feeling like an interrogation.
How to get them to talk more
Strangely enough, the most powerful thing to do in this situation is … NOTHING!
Yes, that’s right. Stop asking questions.
Stay silent… Just wait…
Human beings usually don’t like silence in a conversation, so just wait for them to fill it.
When I first started work as a graduate trainee, I had a manager called Kevin who was brilliant at getting me to talk without him asking any questions. He would draw out of me much more than I thought I knew. In our one-to-ones I was often hesitant to speak up – I was inexperienced, unskilled and lacking confidence. And then with Kevin’s wordless encouragement I would find myself talking through all the issues I was facing, and then discovering solutions for myself, and he would hardly have asked any questions.
Silence is golden
If you find it hard to just wait silently, you can try one of these techniques that I have modelled from my old manager:
• Smile and nod, and wait.
• Raise an eyebrow at them enquiringly, and wait.
• Murmur “uh-huh?” or “go on”, and wait.
• If you really must say something, try “say more about that.”, and wait.
You are simply prompting the other person to give you a response. You will show genuine interest, and encourage them to communicate with you.
• In an interview, this is a great technique also for digging deeper into an answer that they have already given.
• In a social conversation, it encourages your companion to open up.
• In a workplace one-to-one, it lets your staff member expand on what they have been doing.
• In coaching, you will hold the space for your client to explore their own situation for themselves.
What about you?
When can you ask less and listen more?
About Madeleine Allen: The author is a specialist in Leadership, Communication and Personal Development for business professionals. An NLP Trainer and Master Practitioner she delivers bespoke in-house corporate training (learn more at www.allentraining.co.uk) and public courses in NLP (learn more at www.brightlightnlp.com)