ONE things Aussies like is a good conversation. We are a curious bunch. We love to ask questions and find out about others. But there is an art to asking questions that goes beyond just the words we say. Sometimes questions can sound like an interrogation rather than an act of curiosity.
Questions help us find things out and clarify what we may not have quite understood. They can help us see situations in a new light and help us resolve issues. In coaching and development, questions are used to identify issues and solutions. In everyday life, questions help us get what we want. A classic is, “where are the toilets?” The question identifies the problem, a need for a bathroom — the answer, the solution. There is no such thing a dumb question, but there is such thing as an ineffective question.
So what can you do to make sure you are asking question in the right way? What can you do to help the person on the receiving end not mistake you for the secret service? You can rely on your voice.
Tone of voice is very powerful and tonality seems to have a universal pattern. For example, when you increase the pitch of your voice up at the end of a sentence, it is usually perceived as a question. Try it. However, if you keep your voice flat, you are perceived as making a statement. If you lower the pitch of your voice at the end of a statement, it comes across as an order. The increasing and decreasing of your pitch is called inflection. It is the difference between “can you tell me more?” (curiosity) and “can you tell me more!” (an order).
When you ask a question, you need to ensure that speaker feels supported and safe to answer it. Since they cannot read your mind, your intended meaning may not be coming across and the response might seem confusing.
For example, take a simple question such as “when are you heading to lunch?” Now repeat this question in the following ways. Each time you say it out aloud, reflect on its effect.
Did you notice how each feeling resulted in a different tone of voice? In fact, you probably found yourself unconsciously emphasising different words in different ways to match the mood. This is the power your mind and body have over your communication.
Whether you are asking when that report will be on your desk or what someone is doing over the weekend, be mindful of how you ask the question. It’s not always the words you say, or your intended curiosity that comes across. If your mind is asking one thing and your voice saying something else, the receiver of the question might be confused. Match your voice with your intention and you will get an answer that will be the start of a great conversation.