Advanced questioning skills

Do you use your questions effectively? Do you ask the right questions?

I was working with a client recently looking at the questions she had used in an interview. On first inspection they seemed perfectly reasonable. But when you dug down, it was clear they didn’t do the job and she could have got a lot more useful information in the same time.

Every question must count

In an interview situation every question needs to count, and I don’t just mean if you are the interviewer.

When you are going for a job, you need to make sure you are not jumping out of the frying pan into the fire.

The trouble is most people really don’t know how to use questions effectively. Instead of identifying clearly what they need to find out and working out their questions carefully before a meeting, they just ask the questions they have always asked.

Your strategy

You need to have a whole bank of questions ready, particularly in challenging situations. Ask yourself:

  • What information do I really need?
  • What does this question need to do for me?
  • How do I want the other person to respond?

The right question and the difference it makes

Here in the village I have often run the bar at our fund-raising events. As an ex-production manager, I see my job as getting through the customers as quickly as possible so we can serve them, they can drink their drink and then they can come back and buy more. In this way, we make our money.

This was the strategy I used as a barmaid and it seemed to work pretty well.

One of the members of my team is usually Margaret – an expert sales person. As I was pulling the pints next to her, I heard her ask; “What else can I get you?” The minute I heard that question, I knew I should have been asking it myself.

I’ve developed so supplementary information to go with my booklet “Questions Made Easy”.

Just this week, everyone who buys the booklet, either as a hard copy or a downloadable version, will get that sheet included, completely free.

It’s not just to use in interviews, it will help you in many other situations where you need to get information about what people have been doing and their level of skill. It includes questions for how to get information on:

  • Behaviour (what people did)
  • Values (why they do the things they do)
  • Deep process information (the thinking behind the behaviour)


  • A quick way to prepare your questions
    A list of example questions

These questions are not just useful in an interview. You will find them invaluable in many other situations too, particularly when you need to find out why people are behaving as they are and how they are likely to behave in the future.

Once you see them many will seem obvious and you may wonder why you didn’t think of them before.

As always, I have kept the information short, and only included the key things you need to know – I know you are busy and don’t have time to read pages of material to get to the bit you need.

“Questions Made Easy” with Bonus

How to create difficult people

All this week my colleague Charlie has had problems with her email and phone lines. On Thursday her entire Internet connection and land phone lines went down. As I write this, they are still down.

But the biggest problem has been not knowing what’s going on.

I reported it and mentioned we had had the problem all week and was then told I should have reported it before. That wasn’t possible because so many other people were trying to report the same fault.  But it’s always good to discover these things are your fault as a customer.

I signed up for the text updates. These were sporadic and not very helpful. None of them said what the problem was, though they have been giving changing dates for completion.

The BT engineer tells all

One of Charlie’s friends saw a BT engineer who appeared to be working on the problem. She asked him about it and he told her that it was caused by a stolen cable. Yes, you did read that correctly. So now we know what the problem is.

Why didn’t BT tell us?

Have you been waiting for a train or plane and no one has told you it has been delayed? I bet you have. The most annoying thing is that you know they must have known it would be late because it left its previous destination late.

So why didn’t they let you know? It’s only polite, after all.

The reason they don’t tell you

So given that everyone has experienced this and knows how frustrating it is, why do people still keep information from you? Probably because they are just not thinking.

When you are beset by problems or panicking, you forget about everyone else and just focus on yourself. Usually this happens at exactly the time you need to be giving out more information rather than lass.

As Charlie pointed out, if we had known her lines were down because of stolen cabling we might have had more sympathy for BT.

The consequence of poor communications

By not letting people know, we turn otherwise reasonable customers into ‘difficult people’. In virtually all cases, when you encounter someone who is behaving in a way that is difficult, there is something you can do to make their behaviour more reasonable.

Sometimes you can do it after they have behaved in a difficult way. That way, you have to bring the person round. Much better is to approach people in a way that makes it easy for them to behave nicely towards you in the first place.

It was Mark Twain who said:
“Good breeding consists in concealing how much we think of ourselves and how little we think of the other person.“

When you are under pressure

Good breeding can be the first casualty when you are under pressure. Thinking about others is more difficult in this situation. So make sure you think very carefully about who needs to know what. I know it’s hard but it will pay dividends. Ask yourself who might need information about the situation you are dealing with and what would be most helpful for them.

If there has been a problem it is always good to apologise
Here are the text messages Charlie has had from BT:

  • We aim to repair your fault on 7.10.11; we will continue to update you.
  • We are still aiming to repair the fault on 10.10.11, thank you for your patience, we will keep you updated
  • We aim to repair your fault on 10.10.11; we will continue to update you
  • We are still aiming to repair the fault on 10.10.11, thank you for your patience. We will keep you updated

Now compare those with these:

  • We are very sorry your phone is down and for in inconvenience this is causing you. We are working on it now and hope to have your service restored on 7.10.11. We will continue to update you.
  • We have discovered that your line is down because a cable was stolen. We are working on replacing it and repairing the damage. We hope to have your service restored on 10.10.11. We are sorry for the problems this is causing you.

Which would you prefer?

What is wrong with saying ‘sorry’ or letting people know what the problem is? Surely sending a longer text with the information in is no greater cost – and, for very little effort it would ensure the customers were slightly less unhappy.

For more help on dealing with difficult behaviours go here.

BT are now saying Charlie’s connection will not be up till 17 October! Still no apology.

Negative people and how to deal with them

Do you have to deal with negativity? People who sap your energy and find fault with every good idea?

Negative department

I once worked with an entire department stuffed full of very negative people. They checked the work of other teams and pointed out their mistakes. It was a job they relished. The trouble was they took it to extremes.

When my client Yvonne asked one of them what he thought of her workshop, he presented her with a list of all the things he thought were wrong with it. Each was a very tiny (and unimportant) niggle but he went about the task with gusto. She was extremely upset when she received it.

She assumed that meant he didn’t like the workshop.

When I talked to him about it he was astonished that he had caused any offence. He had enjoyed the workshop and found it useful, but thought he was being particularly helpful by going into such detail.

If you have to deal with anyone like this; help is at hand.  In the chapter “Pessimists” in my book “Difficult People Made Easy” you will find out what to do.

Or, for just £6.25, get the downloadable booklet “The Quick Guide to Dealing with Difficult People” and get the downloadable chapter free.

These people can be amongst the most frustrating to deal with. If it’s your boss, you can feel as though you can’t do anything right.

If it’s people in your team you can feel as though you will never make any progress. Do any of these sound familiar?

“We’ve tried that before and it didn’t work.”
“You don’t understand how things work around here.”
“It will take too long.”
“We don’t have the budget.”
“You’ll never get the senior managers to agree.”

You can get past the negativity

But there are ways to tackle this kind of behaviour. It doesn’t matter if it’s your colleague or your mother-in-law; it can be done.

Being too cheerful

What’s more, you may be making it worse.

Strangely, if you are very positive with these individuals you will make them more negative. Hard to believe I know.

The trick is actually to be negative yourself.

Find out how this works now

Once you’ve got the hang of it, you’ll find it’s pretty easy.

Just for this week, I’m pairing the chapter “Pessimists” up with my booklet “The Quick Guide to Dealing With Difficult People”. So in addition, you get, for the price of the booklet alone, the chapter on what to do with negative people to download.

If you try it and it doesn’t work, you get a full refund

Get the booklet (hard copy) and the chapter to download now