The Surprising Power of Asking Good Questions

Once upon a time…

I was working with a client who was experiencing some challenges with his interpersonal skills, especially with people with whom he was unfamiliar. (Who among us has not faced that challenge at one time or another?)

After working with him and observing him for a while, I gave him this assignment: Today, focus on making eye contact with people. That’s all. Just look them in the eye.

At the end of the day we debriefed, and I asked him: Did you pay attention to making eye contact with people? “Yes,” he said.

How did it feel? I asked.

“It felt like I knew them.”

* P O W *

That answer literally stopped me in my tracks.

It wasn’t the answer I expected. I expected to hear “It was uncomfortable,” or “It was really hard,” or “It was easier than I expected,” or “It got easier with time.”


“It felt like I knew them.”

I am so glad I asked that question. I could have asked him something easy, like “How did it go?” To which a typical answer would have been “Fine.” It would have taken more questions to get to something useful.

But by asking a different question, I got a very different answer.

One that surprised both of us.

One that gave us a lot more to think and talk about.

“How did it feel?”

“It felt like I knew them.”

What a beautiful idea.

This conversation taught me something important about asking the right question. It taught me that when I ask the right question, amazing things can happen. Things that make both parties look at things differently.

I actually knew that. But it’s lovely to be reminded.

Ask questions.

Ask questions that are different than the usual questions.

Think of a question, then think of that question one level deeper.

You might be surprised by the answers you get.

And isn’t that wonderful?

Photo Credit:

Image: Michelle Meiklejohn /

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To learn more about the power of asking good questions,
contact me: susan at susanTblake . com


12 Responses to The Surprising Power of Asking Good Questions

  1. Square-Peg Karen February 10, 2012 at 7:37 am #

    “Think of a question, then think of that question one level deeper.” – Susan, I love this (and the whole post!) AND I’d love to see examples of your process. Because…

    I do this intuitively – but have a hard time doing it consciously (if that makes sense). I’d love to see examples of the questions you might start with and the “one level deeper” ones you’d come up with – to help me be able to do the same process when the second level question doesn’t just pop up intuitively.

  2. Susan February 10, 2012 at 8:04 am #

    Hi Karen! Thank you! Let’s play a game – you give me a situation and a question, and I’ll try to give you One Level Deeper.

  3. Terri February 10, 2012 at 8:12 am #

    Thank you much-ly for this, Susan. I experience it like a faceted gem, much light and several angles to it.

    I value questions, much insight gained from the answers, solid concrete information. Information that evokes change.

    The assignment you gave your client is powerful too and so is his experience with giving it a try.

    Your idea asking the question then thinking of that question one level deeper is a keeper. I’ll bookmark this post. Thank you.

  4. Susan February 10, 2012 at 8:27 am #

    Hi Terri! Thanks so much for your comment. I like that metaphor of the faceted gem, thank you!

  5. Terri February 10, 2012 at 8:48 am #

    Great question, Karen! I’ve been thinking about it for an hour and trying to find deeper questions. I look forward to hearing this interchange, Susan. Brilliant!

  6. Square-Peg Karen February 10, 2012 at 1:49 pm #

    Ohmyword! I’m drawing a blank, Susan — for the life of me I can’t think of a question.

    I did start thinking about questions, and how I ask them – and realized that one thing I do intuitively is ask feeling questions (like your “how did it feel?”) when I’ve been talking with someone about intellectual/thinking issues — and thinking questions (“what did you think about that?” or “what other ideas have you had?” when we’ve been talking in feeling realms) — those kinds of switch-ups seem to shake things loose…

    I may not be able to play the game you suggested (what’s with the big blank – jeez! I feel like a deer in headlights – lol), but I’m certainly moved by this post to keep thinking through HOW I ask questions – what others I can ask questions — I guess it goes back to the curiosity thing — you’ve got me CURIOUS about questions! Thanks!!

  7. Susan February 10, 2012 at 6:06 pm #

    Hi Karen! *Giggles* Stumped you, eh?

    If it makes you feel any better, much of my Question Asking is highly intuitive. And the challenge is for all of us to make it more conscious.

    In this particular instance, I clearly remember that I was about to ask “How did it go?” and knew that was too broad, or safe, a question that wouldn’t bring up anything useful. So I went a level deeper and came up with “How did it feel?” All in a flash second. And what it got me was far more than I expected.

    I love your way of switching things up – that is actually a great example of taking things to another level, or another realm. And questions that get us to look at things from even a slightly different perspective can have far greater impact than we expect.

    Anyway, Game On for any takers. 🙂

    And I LOVE LOVE LOVE that you are now curious about questions! But not surprised. 😉

  8. Square-Peg Karen February 11, 2012 at 8:44 am #

    : ) Oooh, I hope there are takers!

    Susan, thanks – your description of process here helps a lot. And this: “questions that get us to look at things from even a slightly different perspective can have far greater impact than we expect” – yessss!

  9. Justin Mazza February 16, 2012 at 4:35 pm #

    Hi Susan,
    That is really powerful. It’s so common these days for people not to make eye contact with others even when walking right past them.

    I like that he said he felt like he knew them.

  10. Susan February 16, 2012 at 5:49 pm #

    Hi Justin, thanks for stopping by! Yes, it can really take some practice to make eye contact, and it’s something we often forget about. His comment really highlights how important it is. Thanks for your comment!

  11. Joshua June 22, 2012 at 6:02 am #

    Hi Susan.

    I liked this post quite a bit. I used to train people about how to ask the right kinds of questions, good questions. If we step back and look at a conversation are you ever compelled to ask yourself, “What is a conversation?” A conversation is simply a series of questions and answers! That being said for all of the salespeople out there that may read Susan’s great post, think about this before your next presentation:
    Did you know that the only difference between conversations that we have everyday and a sales presentation is that in sales we just put labels on the conversation? Labels like building rapport, closing, information gathering, trial closes, etc. etc. Try turning your “presentation” into what it really is….a conversation. Hehe.

    Ok, sorry Susan, I have ranted enough. Great post! In my humble opinion you are spot on!

    Like you said Susan just look them in the eye and ask them genuine questions. Before you know you can honestly say you do know them! Thanks again Susan!

  12. Susan June 22, 2012 at 9:48 am #

    Joshua, thanks for your comments, and your kind words! It’s true, the best sales people just have great conversations. Not only asking great questions, but listening carefully to the answers.

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