3 Questions That Cut Through The Clutter

We’re all self-focused. That’s not a criticism; it’s an important fact to acknowledge so that we can learn to connect with each other better. Since we’re all wrapped up in ourselves, we tend to communicate from our own perspective and through our own filters. Because we communicate from our own perspective, we make assumptions about what others want or need. We even make assumptions about how we hear other people’s comments and questions. Those assumptions cause us to waste time and energy as we approach tasks with a misunderstanding of what the other person wants.

Our only purpose for existing at work is to be of service to someone else. Obviously, away from work, we have a different intrinsic value. But at work, if we aren’t helping other people accomplish their goals, why are we showing up?

“Jane,” your client or customer, calls and shares with you a problem she is facing. Here are three questions that will help you avoid making assumptions and serve Jane better.

  1. How can I help?

I know this sounds unbelievably basic, but the best things usually are. Instead of assuming what Jane needs or wants, just ask. Often, we feel our value is based on having the fastest answer. It’s not. Our value is in understanding our clients’ issues well enough that, when presented with a tough situation, we know what questions to ask so we can go find the right answer. Not only will you be more likely to understand Jane’s needs better, you will show Jane through your behavior that you want to understand her better. Then, of course, listen to her response. That’s crucial.

After Jane’s response, still resist the urge to talk. Jane may have shared several concerns or issues, or explained a complex problem. Respond by saying, “Jane, I hear a number of issues going on here,” and then ask:

  1. What would be most helpful to you?

Putting “most,” “helpful,” and “you” in the same sentence has a remarkable impact on other people. It causes them to pause and think about two things.

First, Jane thinks, why did I call you instead of someone else? It makes the client or colleague think about the value you bring to the table. That’s good for you.

Second, Jane will tend to focus on the word “most.” Asking this question helps your client prioritize, and helps them view you as someone who helps them prioritize. You’ve suddenly become more valuable.

With the first question, you have already avoided making an assumption. The second question helps you focus on being efficient.

Occasionally, a client will call and you can tell from her tone of voice that she is wandering in the wilderness. She hasn’t got a clue as to what she needs.  In that setting, it’s not going to be helpful to ask, “What would be most helpful?” She doesn’t know, and will only get more frustrated that she must admit it. Instead, now make an assumption based on your skills and expertise.  Ask:

  1. Jane, would it be helpful to you if I…?

Then, propose a solution positioned as a question rather than a directive. Positioning your suggestion as a question opens a dialogue rather than pushes an agenda. If you instead say, “Jane, I’m going to do X,” you have assumed not only what she needs, but that she wants you to take the lead in the process. If, instead, you begin with “Would it be helpful…?” you have indicated, “I have no interest in going down this path if it isn’t helpful to you.” You aren’t trying to control or take over. You are just trying to be helpful.

Jane has two options here.  She can say, “Yes. That would be great.” Kudos to you. You have solved his problem.

Or she says, “No. That’s not really what I need.” In that case, you need to dig deeper into her issue. In addition, remember, when she called she didn’t know what she wanted. You have given her what seems like a viable solution. Even though it’s not what she needs, by making the offer, you have helped her realize what she doesn’t need, which takes some of the clutter out of the way. She’s now more likely to see what she does need.

In summary, use:

  1. How can I help?
  2. What would be most helpful to you?
  3. Would it be helpful to you if I…?

All three questions will help you avoid making assumptions and be more helpful to your client.

So, how can I be most helpful to you? Contact Exec|Comm at exec-comm.com/contact-us.

Originally published on Forbes.com.

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