organizational communication

2 Ears and 1 Mouth: There’s a Reason

November 17th, 2006   |   by Frank Addante

A question may yield a thousand answers, but a statement will yield none.

Starting five companies, I have been fortunate to have worked with many different types of people. I’ve come to a conclusion. There are generally two types of people: those who ask questions and those who make statements.

I’ve found that those who ask questions are generally more likely to succeed. Those who make statements tend to serve a short term purpose and eventually fall behind.

There aren’t a lot of people who are comfortable asking questions. People feel as though it is a sign of weakness, a lack of expertise or are fearful of looking dumb. Asking good questions isn’t easy.

There’s that old saying, “There’s no such thing as a stupid question.” I disagree. I think that safety net goes away after the 5th grade. There are ways to ask questions that establish your expertise and there are bad questions that can ruin credibility. Every question, in fact, is a statement in itself. Good questions can make a positive statement: perhaps that you want to learn, that you care about the answer, that you are building your knowledgebase of expertise, etc.

I learn a lot about people simply by the questions they ask. Those who ask questions, learn. Those who make statements miss out on opportunities to learn. If you’re talking you aren’t listening.

When looking at new companies, in the first 10 minutes, I can generally gauge how successful that company will be, simply by paying attention to the quality of the questions the team asks. Or when interviewing new candidates, I can get a sense of what someone’s thought process is like by the kinds of questions they ask.

At all of my companies, my most successful people have been good question askers.

I also find that asking questions is a tremendous selling tool. When working with customers or potential partners, I spend most of the meeting time asking customers questions about their business, their goals, their insight into technology, the market, etc. This gives me a clear understanding of their business and puts me in a much better position to present a solution to their problem. Further, it gives them a sense of confidence and comfort that I understand their business and the solution I propose is much more credible. I always tell sales reps that we’re not there to talk about -our- business, we’re there to talk about -their- business.

Seeing as how we have two ears and one mouth, I think it’s a good rule to try to listen at least twice as much as we talk…

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