Career

How to master the art of “Asking Questions” online

Hi.

You there?

Hello sir?

None of the above messages are questions…

As Voltaire said, “Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.” While so many people ask questions to achieve success, they don’t know that a part of it depends on the way you ask a question.

Many of us receive unsolicited questions in our DMs or emails from people who are seeking any professional advice, any recommendation or maybe a quick follow-up about any previous conversation. How and when you will reply to those questions mainly depends on the way it was asked.

To receive good and informative response online, it is important to effectively structure the way we ask questions, which includes the words we are using and even our tone of the message. All of these things impact the quality of information we receive in response.  

By asking the wrong types of questions or asking them in a wrong way, we limit ourselves from creating new relationships and opportunities that could help to determine our levels of success and happiness.

In this article, I am sharing some tips to help you draft ‘better questions’ to have ‘better responses’ online.

1. Cut the Small Talk

When you approach someone online for a question, make sure to keep the greetings minimal and come to the main question as fast as you can. People often send “there?”, “I need your advice”, “Let me know when you can talk” messages and then wait for the other person to respond. This method usually prolongs the correspondence and is time-taking for someone who is always on the go. Sending a crisp question increases the chances of response from someone who is busy and takes out very minimal time to come online.

2. Desire + Offer = A successful combination

‘What you want to know’ when combined with ‘what can you offer’ creates a lot of difference in online world. An exchange of value always proves to be a good gesture from sender. As a journalist and PR consultant, I receive an average of 50 emails in my inbox per day. Most of the emails are pitches or follow-up on the previously sent pitches. The approach that many of the PR agencies and startups take is to brief a little about what they do and then asking if I can mention them in my blogs (Desire). Same goes for people, when they are asking any question, they tend to only ask what they want to know (Desire). A good question always shows a desire to learn something and with an intention to offer something in return. The offer is usually intangible but makes a lot of difference in setting the respectable tone.

Example:

I’d like to have your feedback on it. Thanks

I would like to have your valuable opinion on it. Also, I am happy to help you spread the word of the blog you wrote this week. Thanks.

3. Did you Google it?

As I am writing this in 2019, let’s agree to the fact that we all have an access to holy grail i.e, Google. Google now processes over 40,000 search queries every second on average and there is a very high chance that your query has a possible answer there. Unless you are taking a personal advice, feedback or suggestion from someone, make sure you Google the query first. If at any point you think your query is a FAQ, spend some time researching about it before you ask the question.

4. Follow-up, always!

No matter how many apps we have in our phone and how many notifications we receive, there is always a chance to skip an important message or email. When you have given decent time to someone to respond and haven’t heard back from them, drop a gentle follow-up or reminder. This doesn’t mean that you are not being respectable, this only means that you care about your query enough to follow-up on that.

5. Dig deeper while being respectful

There is no harm in knowing more about the person you want to reach out for your query. Making your message personalized always stands out and increase your chances to get an immediate and thoughtful response. For example, start your message by appreciating the work they are doing and then ask your question. This is another way to offer value with desire.

As you go forth in your quest for more information and knowledge, remember that asking better questions that lead to better answers takes practice. This implies that you may or may not receive response all the time but you can definitely increase the chances of it.

At any point of time while drafting an email, pull up the following list to have a better understanding of different kinds of questions and the way to structure them. This list is adapted from the work of Richard Paul and the Foundation for Critical Thinking and taken via Scott Berkun’s blog.

  1. Questions for clarification:
  • What do you mean by____ ?
  • Is your basic point _____ or ______  ?
  • How does_____ relate to_____?
  • Could you put that another way? Or explain it to a smart person who knows nothing about this subject?
  • What do you think is the main issue here?
  • How does this relate to our discussion?

      2. Questions that probe assumptions:

  • How do you know this to be true?
  • Is how you feel about this more powerful than how you think about it?
  • How did your source know this to be true?
  • Were there other equally reputable sources with a different opinion?
  • How can you verify or disapprove that assumption?
  • What would have to change for your position to change?
  1. Questions that probe reasons and evidence:
  • What would be an example? a counter-example?
  • What is_____ analogous to?
  • What do you think causes _____ to happen? Why?
  1. Questions about perspectives:
  • What is another way to look at this? (whose point of view can we try to take?)
  • How would you answer the complaints and requests they’d likely have?
  • Can/did anyone see this another way?
  • What would a wise person you respect but who disagrees with you say?
  1. Questions that probe consequences:
  • What are you implying by that? Where is the end-point of your line of thinking?
  • What effect would that have and for who? Who would it be good for? Bad for?
  • Would that necessarily happen or only probably happen?
  • What is an alternative?
  1. Questions about the question:
  • Can we break this question into smaller ones that are easy to work through?
  • What hidden assumptions are in this question?
  • Will it be easier to answer this question if we each go away and do some research and then return?
  • Is this question clearly stated? Do we understand it? Is there a better question to ask?
  • How would (someone we mutually respect for their wisdom) try to answer this question?
  • Do we need more or better facts to answer this?
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