Ask Better Questions

Good questions can create connection, direction and accountability. However, asking bad questions can create disconnection, irritation and frustration. Join JJ and Melissa as they talk about questions and their usefulness in relationships.

August 3, 2021
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Melissa Albers  0:00  
Hey everyone, you are listening to the self awareness Journey podcast. This little banner is about a car ride long and features your hosts, JJ Parker. And Melissa Albert's JJ owns a tech company. And Melissa has been a coach working with influencers for the last 18 years.

JJ Parker  0:17  
And also have a question for you.

Melissa Albers  0:19  

JJ Parker  0:20  
Do you want to do a podcast about asking questions?

Melissa Albers  0:24  
Well, I don't know what's in it for me. Hey, wait, we should try to do the podcast with only communicating by question by question.

JJ Parker  0:32  
Oh, that would be interesting. That would be super hard. I don't know You tell me. Let's talk about questions.

Melissa Albers  0:42  
Let's talk, obviously,

JJ Parker  0:43  
let's talk about questions. As I was listening to a podcast the other day that I kind of brought this idea up, and they were there's a business podcast, and they were talking about, ask that they're saying ask better questions, get better answers. Mm hmm. I was like, I love that. And then a quick Google search of that exact same phrase revealed like, there's literally books written with that exact same title. So this is not like, Yeah, this is not like, a new topic that asking better questions leads to better answers, but I really like it. So we're gonna, we're gonna do a podcast on the same topic. Yeah. But it's so true, right? Like, asking a really good question. Can be super powerful.

Melissa Albers  1:36  
Yes. For both sides.

JJ Parker  1:39  
Yeah, right. Sometimes. For me, I feel like one of my introvert super powers, is to simply just ask people questions. Yeah, you do that. And it's mostly because I don't like talking that much. So it's way easier for me to just like, ask a couple of questions and let the other person talk. It's like, my comfort is like, for some reason, it's like more comfortable for me. Yeah, in that way, like, then I don't have to come up with the content. Right?

Melissa Albers  2:08  
You know, what's really interesting, though, you know, as my first half of my professional career was in sales, so you can just about imagine how many years worth of sales trainings I went to, because I was in sales. And, you know, the predominant part of sales trainings, at least a good part is learning how to ask questions when and how. And that can make or break the difference between success in hitting your quota and selling is good at knowing how to ask questions.

JJ Parker  2:38  
So we use question asking in, like a professional setting, like all the time, right sales, like coaching most Yeah, coaching, most of leadership development is just around asking questions,

Melissa Albers  2:50  
right? Coaching to you just always asking questions was

JJ Parker  2:54  
interesting is like, even though everyone knows that asking questions is super important. How often do you just get in the trap of not asking questions or having them be like super thin? Dumb, right? Yeah. Well, that's a nice way to put it. No, I put it in a nicer way. Thin questions you

Melissa Albers  3:16  
did that was a nicer way. In depending on on the mood, sometimes you almost want to just call them in Yeah.

JJ Parker  3:23  
Yeah. I mean, I were talking about this earlier, but I am going to go on my rant about the question. I hate the most. Oh, okay. Well, I'll wait for it. So the question I dislike the most is, how's it going? Right? Like, if I walk up to you and say, like, hey, Musa, how's it going? Like, what are you gonna say? Like, fine, good, fine. Like, it's such a bad question. To me, it's like, it is no one's gonna say anything else, but good or fine. Or like, you know, it's just, it's too thin. Do you? And the thing I hate about it, it is like, it's like, okay, because I'm a nerd. Right? And I'm like, think about the world sometimes in like software architecture. It's part of a protocol. The protocol is instead of saying like, hi, good to see you as like, a protocol to start conversation with somebody. We've replaced it with, like, Hey, how's it going? Yeah, we just like an awkward start to a conversation because it's a thin question. And everyone has a reef reflective answer, right? Yeah.

Melissa Albers  4:31  
Yeah. This reminds me of my best friend from the UK was in town with her husband. This is a few years ago, and we were at the grocery store. And the cashier said to call in her husband. Hey, how's it going? And Colleen says, Well, I'm not great. This that, you know, I've had we just flew in I've got a lot of jet lag. And as we walked out, Fiona started to just blister him when, when someone asked You how you are they don't actually care.

JJ Parker  5:04  
Right? Exactly. Don't actually carry say

Melissa Albers  5:07  
fine and move along. was so funny, but that's true. Right

JJ Parker  5:13  
as part of the protocol, there's no data there. It's just part of

Melissa Albers  5:17  
the entering into the conversation. Yeah, right. Yeah. Right. So

JJ Parker  5:21  
stop arrow, stop doing that. Please. Talk to me.

Melissa Albers  5:25  
Duly noted. Okay, it's directed at me somehow. That's fine.

JJ Parker  5:31  
Well, so asking better questions. How do we ask better questions? Mm hmm. Like, let's talk about that. Because obviously, we don't want the questions to be too thin. But I think there is an art in, like, how you ask questions, like, kind of warm people up, you don't maybe just jump into a super hard question, in certain situations, in other situations may be a do. Right. So there's a whole art around asking questions.

Melissa Albers  5:59  
Yes, I totally agree with you. And I think, you know, like one of the major tenants, I think of asking a good question, is to ask a specific question that requires some thought to answer. In other words, and that's like the number one rule and sales never ask a yes or no question to a prospect, or someone you're selling to? Because they will simply answer yes or no. And it stops the conversation. There's no momentum that can be built with a question that is a yes or no question. So asking the same question, but being thoughtful about it, so that they have to also be thoughtful and how they respond.

JJ Parker  6:39  
So you said like, you want to keep the conversation flowing, right? So like, that is the part where that starts creating like a bond between people, right? Like, trying to get that exchange and that flow to happen. Yeah, sometimes. Yeah. Sometimes I've witnessed, like, it's quite calm conversation, hijackers, which are like you ask a question, and then someone just like, goes on, and then just starts talking about themselves forever? And like, never asked you that question back. Right. never asked anything of you. Like, do you come across hide conversation hijackers?

Melissa Albers  7:26  

JJ Parker  7:27  
How does it make you feel?

Melissa Albers  7:30  
Well, actually, I have gotten to the place where, you know, I didn't even really notice this until just in this moment. But when I asked questions, I'm usually thinking about the person and wondering about the person before I asked the question. So if there's somebody that I think is going to be a hijacker, and you can just you can sort of tell if someone does a lot of talking and there's a lot of empty words, I would probably be more cautious about the question that I would ask because I would know, otherwise, I would be just lobbing them and underhanded softball at a tee ball. And it's over. It's over now, it's gonna be

JJ Parker  8:07  
almost all the way. Right?

Melissa Albers  8:10  
Yeah. That's funny. I don't feel like that happens with many people to be fair, but yeah, there are the there are a handful of people that that is definitely that's and I think that's completely people that are lacking self awareness.

JJ Parker  8:24  
They don't they like they're not intentionally doing it. They don't like actually realize that they're doing it right. And it's like, there's a bit of like, a emotional intelligence element there, right? They're not really maybe reading the other person

Melissa Albers  8:40  
and emotional intelligence, where they actually are understanding their own emotions in the moment. Because, for example, if if, if you are in like a networking site setting or someplace where you don't know anyone, and you run into one of those people, a hijacker and you ask them a question, and they're nervous, and they don't recognize how nervous they are, oh, yeah, just start to talk. And they'll answer the question, but then they don't want anything to be quiet. And so then they just go from one thing to the next, just hoping that it doesn't have this uncomfortable, awkward quietness. And so that's, I think a lot of the times, people will answer questions in a really crazy way, not only because of how you asked it, but because of their own anxiety or nerves in trying to fit in in this discussion between you and this other person.

JJ Parker  9:27  
Oh, yeah. Tough, like all the time. You witness like that nervous chatter? Yeah. Right. And the fear of silence that's, that's another interesting thing to me, like, this idea that there can't be any awkward silence. Yeah. In a conversation and people try to avoid that. I kind of like the awkward silence. Yeah, sounds I tried to make it happen.

Melissa Albers  9:50  
I mean, oh,

JJ Parker  9:52  
is it okay? No, it's been. No, it's

Melissa Albers  9:56  
not. I agree with you though. I think that um, that's awesome. thing there's there's, I'll, I'll say this. I think there's a lot of power in silence.

JJ Parker  10:05  
Yeah, I think so too. Yeah. Yeah, one first chance

Melissa Albers  10:09  
to just sort of settle in and be connected to someone else without being false without being, you know, more and more words, just for the sake of words. Yeah.

JJ Parker  10:19  
Yeah. One for some of us who need to think to talk. Yeah, like, I actually need that silence to figure out what to say next.

Melissa Albers  10:27  
Yeah. Yeah. And for me as an extrovert, you know, just getting back to that, you know, the, the route, how we started the conversation about asking questions, you know, we're talking about answering them now. But so much of how people answer is based on our ability to ask a good question. Mm hmm. Right. And yes, and sometimes a good question requires a moment of quiet a moment pause to reflect and answer what you'd like.

JJ Parker  10:53  
Yeah. Yeah. When I go, and we're talking about, like, how to ask a good question, because like, there's so many questions that are like, too big, right? Like, we were even talking like the other week, like, like, what's your life purpose? Well, like you can't walk up to somebody like, Oh, hey, how's it going? What's your life purpose? Right, Mike? This is to let me just

Melissa Albers  11:14  
like my scroll, right? Yeah.

JJ Parker  11:17  
Right. Like, it says, scope is too big as like too big of an idea. Like, where do you even start with that? Right. So, so asking questions that have like, the right bet or the right size, right? And like you said, are specific enough? Like, even? Even something as like, benign as like, what makes you happy? Like, that is probably too hard to answer. Right. But like, what would your perfect day be? Is an easier question. Right. So scopes at two a day, like, what can we fit in? Yeah, that's 24 hours, right? I agree. And then from there, you probably are going to understand what makes this person happy, because they're going to tell you about the things they want to do. Yeah.

Melissa Albers  12:01  
You know, one of the things too, is, because I've obviously done lots and lots of leadership, development trainings and seminars and speaking events. And John Maxwell has a book out that's called leaders ask good questions. And it's all about asking open ended questions. So if you're trying to get to know someone, I really like where you're going with this is like, what's your perfect day? And really, some of the other things is to focus on value questions, what that person might value. And getting people to talk about themselves is oftentimes a really good way to break the ice. So by asking them questions about themselves, like what you're leaning towards now is really one of the best communication skills you can develop, you know, question questions like, Where did you grow up? What did you want to be when you grew up? Yeah. And And why didn't you do that? And or how did you get to the job that you have now? You know, some more open ended yet specific questions.

JJ Parker  13:12  
Yeah. It's interesting. Like I was thinking that some of those questions sometimes you get in those question area that, like, feels like you're prying personal, like they get too personal. Yeah, but I've never actually, I think I've been scolded for asking a question too, personally, really? Like, wow, you know, my wife would be like, Hey, you can't ask that. Oh, right. Um, but it's never as I've heard, it's never actually backfired on me, to my knowledge.

Melissa Albers  13:43  
There's the key. Yeah, no, I I'm with you. I think, too. You know, the thing is, is that asking good questions requires intentionality requires you knowing what it is that you actually want to know. And more importantly, why why you want to know it, or why you're asking.

JJ Parker  14:04  
Yeah. And I'd say I add on top of that, like, a question that's not leading to a judgment. Hmm. Oh, you know what I mean, like, sometimes you ask a question, but you're actually sort of trying to, like, prove or disprove you have about somebody? Yeah, right. Yep. Yeah, those questions never worked out. Well,

Melissa Albers  14:23  
well, and there's things like, there's things like the tone of voice that you use when you ask, even if you're in an argument with someone. Exactly. To your point, asking a question that is really just trying to further your position. Yeah. Yeah. Creates defensiveness in the other person and will shut them down. Yeah. We're more open ended questions. Can you know and some examples, like let's give examples because I really think that you know, a lot of people want to know what questions they can ask specifically. And I really like questions like, Well, can you tell me more about that, or I'm not sure I understand. Where did where did the your idea come from? Or something like that? Right? I really like those kinds of questions.

JJ Parker  15:13  
Yeah. Like those are? Yeah, I like like they're they're like they're curious, right? They're there from a parrot a spot of curiosity, not judgment,

Melissa Albers  15:29  
right? And I think too, when you're dealing with people, and again, it's really knowing who your audience is, who is it that you're talking to? What kind of person are they? What do you know about them? So for example, if you're working with somebody that's highly detailed, most of the time, if a highly detailed person is in the middle of something, or in the middle of their flow, and you ask them a question about the work that they've just done, or something that they had their name on, oftentimes, they if you're not cautious how you ask or, or at least aware, cautious is the wrong word. If you're not aware, you actually will make them feel defensive. Like it like you're asking them to prove something about what they know or what they did. And so recognizing that people that are highly detailed, often by asking them questions, they may feel like that, you can also counter that with, I'm just seeking to understand more for myself, you know, like, giving a little bit of why I'm asking you this question I or I will often say, Oh, I know, you've already thought this out, but like helped me understand how you got here.

JJ Parker  16:34  
Yeah, yeah. Like, bring me with? Yes, yes. thing, you know, that that kind of approach?

Melissa Albers  16:40  
Yeah. Because you want to be in partnership with people. That's what this is all about. You know, we're constantly trying to build our awareness of who we are and understand how other people are wired so that we can be in partnership with others so that they become easier.

JJ Parker  16:51  
Yeah. Yeah, the other. The other thing for my personality is when when I give an answer, I'll feel very committed to the thing I said. Right. So like, if you were to ask me, about a like, hey, yeah. Is it like, what's the deadline for this project? And I'll have like, a really hard time giving you a deadline. That's not maybe even padded, because I don't want to miss it. Right.

Melissa Albers  17:20  
Yeah. So but that little perfectionism string in there is that you know that what you're attaching that to God?

JJ Parker  17:26  
Yeah, totally. And, and so I know, people on my team that, that that's a hard question for them to answer. They don't want to commit to that kind of answer. Yeah. Right. So if you ask different things, because like, as a part of my role would might be like, estimating when the project's actually going to be done. So he can tell people the answer of like, it'll be done whenever we feel like it's done. It's not a good answer. Sometimes.

Melissa Albers  17:54  
It's like a Napoleon Dynamite answer, right. However I want,

JJ Parker  17:57  
I want to get done. So it'll be also asking questions, like, in a slightly different way, like, like, do you think this? Like, would you be surprised if this project took until next year? Hmm. Yeah, like, yeah. Oh, yeah. No, it's gonna done way sooner than next year. Okay. Um, what do you do? Or like, Would you be disappointed if this took more than two months?

Melissa Albers  18:21  
Oh, sure. Yeah, that's a good way. You know, another way that you could approach that same feeling is you could say something like, Do you have a reasonable expectation of when it might be done, and I'm not asking you to be for sure. Right now. I'm just curious if you have a reasonable idea. Yeah, give space. You're giving space to the other person? You know, it's really funny. Oh, go ahead.

JJ Parker  18:44  
No, I was gonna, I was gonna switch the topic on you. So you should finish your thought.

Melissa Albers  18:48  
No, I was gonna switch the topic to see Oh, geez.

JJ Parker  18:51  
How are we not insane? Oh, good. All right. What do you wanna start the topic too?

Melissa Albers  18:54  
Well, I was going to talk about answering questions when you are not a detailed person, because that's okay. Let's hear about that. Yeah. So one of the things in my house, when I say my house, my 220 Something kids and husband know that I hate being asked a bunch of detailed questions. Because it is trying to pin me down to but it's for a completely different reason. It's not perfectionism, it's just that I don't want to think that detail, especially if I'm tired, or in the middle of something else. Yeah. And what I find is super annoying. I love your family. Super annoying, is when I'll get asked one question that leads to another that leads to another that leads to another and I feel like I'm being interrogated. that bugs me so much. And I find myself even if the answer is obvious. I find myself wanting to shut down and almost just be like, like a like just a troublemaker. Oh no my answer like oh, yeah, what don't you know the answer to that? Well, what would you think like I actually can be like a turning into being a total brat.

JJ Parker  19:59  
Yeah, yeah. Now bent on the whole thing like, yeah, like, No, I said, we're gonna go on vacation in Dubai and ride camels. I don't know how we're getting there or anything. But that's, we're just gonna do that.

Melissa Albers  20:12  
And you've asked the same question 46 times, last four and a half hours. I'm so Oh.

JJ Parker  20:23  
That's yeah, that's that is interesting. Like, there's I mean, it's it's interesting how much our personalities will play into how we deal how we both ask, and yeah, like, answer our questions.

Melissa Albers  20:35  
Well, interestingly enough, how much other people's personalities does the exact same thing, which is why it's really important to be always thinking about the other person that we're communicating with, what do I need to say or be for that other person so that I get my own needs met by asking this question, and in turn, they will feel that they're getting their needs met? Because I'm asking in a way that's easy for them.

JJ Parker  20:59  
What you said is super right. And also super hard. Yeah, it is so hard to be in. Yes. Yeah. That thoughtful all the time. I mean, Frank,

Melissa Albers  21:09  

JJ Parker  21:12  
Totally agree. We should do like we should, we should put make a note. It occurred to me that we should do an entire podcast on the opposite of this topic, which is listening. Wait times you ask? Yeah. How many times you ask a question. And then someone answers it. And you have like, no idea what they say, cuz you're not even listening. Yeah. So worst? Yeah.

Melissa Albers  21:34  
I think we all do that, too.

JJ Parker  21:36  
Let's, um, let's talk about like, we've been talking about x like this external questions, asking questions of other people. Let's talk about the questions we ask ourselves. Oh, that's good. Because, like, I think that most of our thinking patterns, when I recognize like my own thinking patterns, like what am I thinking about? I've tried to think about thinking it's really hard. When I read when I think about, like, what are those thoughts that are coming up in my mind all the time? A lot of them are questions. I'm asking myself questions all the time.

Unknown Speaker  22:12  
Hmm. Right. Yeah, that's like.

JJ Parker  22:17  
And so my brain, like, is constantly asking questions and try to answer questions

Melissa Albers  22:24  
in my head, right.

JJ Parker  22:27  
And I wonder if I'm giving it, Phil, if I'm asking the right questions of myself. Yeah. Are those just terrible questions, and I'm just setting myself up for like, bad answers.

Melissa Albers  22:38  
Well, I don't even think it's like to the answer point, I think, you know, a question is going to give us so much feedback on what our mind space is. And so when you're asking questions, you know, as you're talking about, I started reflecting on that, as you were saying, I'm thinking about what questions I asked myself in the answers. And I started thinking, about the only time I really think I'm asking myself questions is if I'm beating myself up about something, right? Like, why do I do that? Why can't I just How come every single time I get in this position? Why does this make me feel so bad? Those are the kinds of questions that I find that I'm asking myself, or at least that I have the most awareness that I'm asking myself. And then sometimes, I might ask myself something like, I wonder if I can do this better. I wonder if I can write like, I wonder questions are really, really helpful. Positive questions. Yeah. So why can't I Why don't I questions are very damaging.

JJ Parker  23:37  
Okay. Why do I always Yeah, right. Yeah.

Melissa Albers  23:41  
Is that what you were talking about? Yeah,

JJ Parker  23:43  
yeah, definitely. I mean, I agree. On I wonder question. Yeah. Is a belt the best way to to ask for something? Yeah. Even to another person. Like I use that all the time. Yeah. I wonder this disarms everything. Yeah. You should use that on yourself to like, because what are what are our many of our own self referential thoughts? Right? A lot of times, they're very judgy. Yes. Right. We're always like our worst

Melissa Albers  24:19  
critic. Definitely. Yeah, like so never talk. We would never ask the questions we asked ourselves, we'd never ask those to other people. A lot of those questions, we will never say out loud.

JJ Parker  24:30  
So why do we mean? Yeah, why are we doing why would we do that to ourselves? Why is our internal dialogue tuned like that? Or how did how do we get how did we get in that state? And how do we start asking better questions for ourselves?

Melissa Albers  24:46  
Well, you asked two really deep questions right in a row us. Why do we do that, which is the reactive question, but they said what can we do in the future, which is the proactive question

JJ Parker  24:58  
and both of them are really good. When you want to answer you can take your pick. Oh, good. I'd

Melissa Albers  25:02  
rather take the proactive.

JJ Parker  25:03  

Melissa Albers  25:04  
I mean, I think we talked about reactive a lot. You know, that came from our wiring, we came from our family dynamic from the time we were four years old, we were already set in what what our expectations were, we took on everything our parents said we were supposed to do. And then some having no idea what we thought we were supposed to do, because we weren't old enough yet. And then we just kept finding substantiating evidence to hold us in that spy and then see until you do thinking, and working and having more awareness that you can come out of that. So I guess I answered the React. But the proactive Isn't that a fun question? Yeah. Isn't that a fun thing to think about? Because we have complete control over that. Yep. You know, or control sounds maybe not the right word. But we have the ability to focus and manage and alter instantly.

JJ Parker  25:56  
Yeah, influence on it right now. The inflow boy,

Melissa Albers  26:00  

JJ Parker  26:01  
it's almost your monkey brains going way too much. And you can't even stop it at all. That's sometimes happens.

Melissa Albers  26:08  
You know, the other thing I always like to talk about in our podcasts, it seems like it applies regardless of what the topic is. But it's grace. You know, when we're working with people, and we're starting the conversation today about asking questions and people asking good questions or bad questions. Isn't it easy to judge other people? When they ask something? And you can see that they're asking because they're mad, and they're looking to forward their own agenda? Isn't it easy to judge them and think, What a jerk? How come they're doing that when in fact, we maybe did that 20 minutes earlier with someone else? You know, I think we just got to give each other grace with that kind of stuff as we were trying to navigate ways of growing,

JJ Parker  26:49  
you know, give each other and then even with ourselves, right, in our own internal dialogue, you know, we might be a little harsh, harsh on ourselves, and then we just have to, like, Okay, let that go. Think of something, a better question to ask ourselves. And then more curious question.

Melissa Albers  27:07  
Right. Right. Exactly. Exactly. Yeah, I just think General there was

JJ Parker  27:12  
awkward silence. Do you have any other last questions?

Melissa Albers  27:18  
Oh, yes, I did. Thank you for asking. I was just gonna say like, in general, regardless of the topic, or the person, I just think some of the key things to keep in mind, right, like for me, when I try to keep in mind is, how can I engage this person in a dialogue with me that is easy and productive? Like that's honestly one of the things that I think about, and oftentimes I do that by asking them questions about themselves, that are curious and open ended and not to like, what's your shoe size? You know, nothing too weird, just generally, so that the person feels valued. You know, the questions that we asked, I want to the questions that I asked, I always want to be valuing the person, because I feel like I'll get the best answer and the best everything by coming from that place first.

JJ Parker  28:08  
That's a great approach.

Melissa Albers  28:12  
We hope that you've enjoyed today's episode. Our mission is to help people become happier and more effective by gaining insight into their own thoughts and feelings. We'd love your support. First, share this podcast with anyone you think might enjoy it. Second, leave us a rating or review on your favorite podcast site. This helps others discover the podcast so we can reach more people. And third, sign up for our newsletter at the self awareness journey.com. This will help us communicate better with you and build our community. Thank you so much for joining us in the self awareness journey. We'll see you next week.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

Discussed in this episode

Let's get real

Meet your guides

JJ Parker

JJ Parker is a serial entrepreneur passionate about building creative strategy, efficient operations, and unique marketing perspectives. Parker got his start as a student at The Minneapolis Institute of Art, and soon after launched his first company Tightrope Media Systems (TRMS) with a high school buddy in 1997.

Melissa Albers

Melissa is passionate about developing people’s self-awareness and ability
to positively interact with others. She focuses on the importance of
building influence, and highlights the most important relationship we have
is with self first. Ms. Albers speaks on leadership and self-awareness, and
has shared the stage with John Maxwell (Leadership Author and Speaker),
Lee Cockerell (Exec VP of Disney) and Les Brown (Motivational Speaker) to
name a few.

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