As a young kid growing up, I use to follow my father around at his bakery.
When he would do a particular thing — regardless of what it was — I would invariably ask him “why” he did whatever he was doing. Quite honestly he told me to stop asking so many questions countless times. In other words, I was being a pain in his backside.
Even at the ripe old age of 74, I still find myself curious about a lot of things in life – not everything, however, lots of things. To this day, my favorite question is “Why?”
A man tells me that he is investing in a particular stock: “Why?” A woman is changing jobs: “Why?” A student wants to attend a certain college or university: “Why?” Someone roots for the Seahawks or Mariners: “Why?”
“Why?” is the greatest question ever asked, and it always will be. It certainly is the surest way of keeping a conversation lively and interesting.
Whenever I am preparing for a meeting with someone, it is a common practice for me to spend time determining what questions I want to ask. I do this because I want to make the most of the time I have, however, I also do it to engage with the other person. Earlier today, I had an interview with a local business man. I had requested thirty minutes of his time, however prior to our meeting, I spent close to an hour deciding what questions I wanted to ask him.
In other words, I want people to know that I value them, and if possible, I want to add value to them. To do that, I must get to know them. That requires I ask questions, they talk, I listen – and usually take notes. If I hope to receive value from people, again, I need to ask questions and listen. You can’t accomplish these things unless you get to know people.
The meetings I look forward to the most are so-called “learning breakfasts or lunches.” However, with the ever increasing cost of eating out, I have significantly downgraded to coffee and conversations. I try to schedule every month with people who can teach me or stimulate my thinking.
When we meet, I try to come armed with questions. Many are specific to the individuals I am meeting with based on prior knowledge that I have acquired.
However, there are some questions that are relevant to everyone. You may want to use all or at least part of them if deemed appropriate. For example:
What is the greatest lesson you have learned? By asking this question I seek their wisdom.
What are you learning now? This question allows me to learn about and benefit from their passion.
How has failure shaped your life? This question gives insight into their attitude.
Who do you know whom I should know? This allows me to engage with
What have you read that I should read? This question directs my personal growth.
What have you done that I should do? This helps me to seek or explore new experiences.
How can I add value to you? This shows my gratitude and desire to add value to them.
After asking the question and getting an “answer” or “response,” do not jump quickly to the next question. Years ago, I picked up on a little technique used by the late-night news analyst, Mike Wallace, when interviewing people. He would ask a question and the guest would immediately answer.
However, Mr. Wallace would almost always wait or pause for a few seconds.
It was amazing what people would say after initially answering… simply by waiting a few extra seconds. By doing so, the guest more often than not would add an interesting and detailed “rest of the story.”
Again, I would strongly encourage the use of questions to engage others and to learn from them. You may have to start out slowly by using only a couple of questions until you become more comfortable with asking them. However, I am confident that you will find it one of the most rewarding practices you ever developed.
And finally, as I was putting the finishing touches on the content for this column, my six year old granddaughter walked into my office and asked, “Papa Loren, what are you doing?” I replied, I am writing an article about asking people questions.
And what do you think her response was? You guessed it. “Why, Papa Loren?”
What is the expression? What goes around, comes around.
Until next time…
Loren Simmonds has been a resident of Lynnwood for 35 years. He served on the Lynnwood City Council for 16 years and is currently a member of the Lynnwood Civil Service Commission. Loren works as a consultant, writer, speaker and trainer. He is currently a member of the Lynnwood Parks and Recreation Foundation.