Consulting tip: Ask good questions, publicly

By | September 3, 2015

Consultantsmind Ask good questionsConsultants ask great questions. Peter Drucker famously said, that “My greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask a few questions.”  BOOM.

Today I was in a big corporate meeting of 60+ people. Big titles, regional heads, leaders of businesses. The purpose of the meeting was the educate, gain alignment on a new organization and rally around a few key marketing visions and ideas. All good.

I asked two (hopefully good) questions. Paraphrasing, they were:

  • To me, it seems the main question here is decision rights.  How do you see that governance body working, and who will be making the decisions?
  • Yes, I understand how the group is strategic, but doesn’t that only cover XYZ, and does not really address ABC?  How do you see XYZ addressing ABC?

Ask the question. Many of us – when sitting in meetings of lots of people – will consider asking a question, but don’t. Generally, I think you should ask. A little fear is good. If you aren’t sure about it. . listen to this great podcast with Seth Godin here, as he says, “Dance with your Fear”.

Be direct. Of the people there, there were a few who asked poor questions:

  • Too much rambling ; 2-3 minutes asking, and re-asking the same question because it was poorly worded and too illustrative
  • Making statements; “Yes, I too believe 123.”  (uh, okay, and. . . .?)

Show some humor, and self-deprecation. Lower yourself a little bit – in tone, in what you say, how you say it. Ask the question with the heart and manner of someone who needs help. Ask for their perspective and advice.  You are not cornering them.

  • Maybe it is me, but. . .
  • Is it fair to say. . .
  • I get this, but could you help me understand. . .

During the breaks, re-engage. Use breaks to follow up on the question & answer with the speaker, or others. Don’t become known for being a meeting terrorist who just drops random accusing question. You asked the questions for valid reasons, follow up on those ideas, and hypotheses. Get known for something.

Write it down before you ask. We all get nervous, so write it down what you want to ask – just key phrases so you don’t get lost. These can be your cue cards when asking.

Know your stuff.  Don’t ask stupid questions you should know the answer to. Do your homework, add value through your questions, just like Peter Drucker did. If you listen to Tim Ferriss’ interview podcasts, he always does his research, listen to this one with Arnold Schwarzenegger here.

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2 thoughts on “Consulting tip: Ask good questions, publicly

  1. Kirk

    This is great advice. Seems like junior consultants are always hesitant to ask the question because it’s an admission that they don’t fully understand something. The reality is that clients aren’t hiring us to be ‘know-it-alls’, but to learn and understand their issues from an outside perspective and provide clarity and guidance that is relevant for their business. Also great guidance for those learning to sell, as nobody wants to hear your solution before you prove you understand where they are coming from. Can’t do any of that if you don’t first fully understand the problem.

    1. consultantsmind Post author

      Agree with all your points. Funny how – we as consultants – should pride ourselves on being good thinkers and listeners. Harder to do that it looks.

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