Successful Joint Business Planning Begins With Great Questions

What-we-do1Successful joint business planning requires vendors and retailers to share as much important information as possible. But you have to know what to ask and how to ask it to get the information you need. There’s an art to asking great questions; an essential skill that far too few people in leadership positions possess. Here are a few tips on asking questions that will get you the answers you need:

Great questions don’t lead. Ask questions that are simple and direct. Allow the person on the other side of the table to give honest answers without being influenced by leading phrases. Instead of, “Should we do X or Y?” ask, “What do you think we should do?” The answer might lead you down a path you’ve never considered.

Great questions don’t interrogate. Asking a lot of questions can put people on the defensive and shut down their willingness to be open. The trick is asking questions that make people feel valued, not on the hot seat. This is where active listening becomes important. People are more inclined to share their thoughts when the questioner appears genuinely interested. Don’t be afraid to follow-up with more questions and more active listening.

Great questions help uncover what we don’t know and how to find it. Only through the process of discovery do we really understand what we don’t know and what we need to find out. Consider Socratic questioning as a means to achieve a deeper comprehension of the issues.

Great questions invite a broad spectrum of input. The more perspectives we seek, the better informed we are. That includes talking to everyone from the boardroom to front line workers. Heck, maybe even the check out lady at the grocery store has some insight. She sure has solved many of my problems.

Great questions are not self-motivated. Your line of questions should not be motivated to gain approval or buy-in. Questions should simply be to gather information and insights, not flattery.

Great questions ask what we could do better. Everyone and everything has room for improvement. Hopefully, you’ve established a level of trust in this relationship already. So the answer will more likely be honest and helpful advice in whatever improvements you can make, in your product, in your relationship, or in your services.

Here are a few more tips on asking great questions, and on using questions to make meetings more productive.

Understanding these simple, powerful concepts will help your joint planning efforts get off on the right foot.