How To Do Life

Fresh ideas about career and personal issues

Asking the Right Questions

A potent tool for enhancing your professional and personal life.

Ask a question and you not only obtain desired information but show you're interested in what the person has to say. The right question can be particularly potent. Examples:

Ask your boss, “Is there anything I can do to make your life easier?”

Ask your romantic partner, “Is there anything you wish you could tell me? Is there anything you’d like me to tell you that you don’t already know?”

On a date, ask, “If all your friends and family were here, what would you say about them? What would they say about you?”

If you’re thinking of buying something—from a car to a TV--ask the salesperson, “What should I know about this versus the alternatives?”

Too often, parents ask their children, "What do you do in school today," only to get the answer, "Nothing." You may have a better chance if you ask, "What was the best and worst thing about school today?"

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When you don’t understand what a person said, it’s more likely to flatter than to appear dumb to ask, “I’m not sure I got all that. Would you mind saying that again?”

In interviewing a doctor, lawyer, psychologist, contractor, financial advisor, etc., ask, “What makes you different from your peers?”

If you’re interviewing someone to work for you, ask, “If a room were filled with everyone who’s ever worked with you, what would they agree was the best and worst thing about you?”

If you’re interviewing an investment advisor, ask, “How do I benefit from hiring you rather than investing in a low-cost Vanguard All-in-One Fund?”

At the end of interviewing someone, for example, you’re thinking of hiring an employee, a counselor, or picking a school for your child-- ask, “Is there anything else I should ask you?”

If you’re interviewing for a job, “What would be the consensus opinion among the people who work here on the best and worst things about working here?”

Another question if you’re interviewing for a job: “What’s something I should know about working here that wouldn’t appear in the employee handbook?”

Another question if you’re interviewing for a job. Before they ask you the tough question, “What’s your salary requirement?  early in the interview, right after you notice that the interviewer liked something you said, ask, “By the way, what’s the salary range that’s been budgeted for the position?” or, “I don’t like to squeeze the last penny out of someone. So what is the most you’ll be able to pay me and still feel comfortable about it?”

If you’re contemplating attending a college or graduate school, ask the admissions officer, “What percentage of students graduate in the expected time?” “How much do students grow in writing, critical thinking, and so on?” “What percentage of graduates are professionally employed within six months of graduation?” “May I see the latest accreditation team’s report?”  Sit in on an advanced class in the program and after the class is over, ask students, “What should I know about the program before enrolling?”

At a town hall meeting or political fundraiser, ask the politician, “The U.S. ranks #1 or #2 in education spending per student. So why do we rank near the bottom of developed nations in student achievement?”

Ask a fundraiser, “What evidence do you have that donations to you yield enough improvement in people’s lives to justify my choosing to give money to your charity?”

Ask a cleric, “What makes you believe in God?” Ask an atheist, “Why don’t you believe in God?”

Marty Nemko's bio is in Wikipedia.

Marty Nemko is a career and personal coach based in Oakland, Ca. and the author of 7 books. 
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