Questions are the Swiss Army Knives of Conversations

16 Ways to Use Questions Strategically

I’ve always been intrigued with Swiss Army Knives and amazed by their multitude of functions. There’s a Swiss Army Knife made by Victorinox called the “Wenger Giant” that packs 141 functions into 87 implements! Although you’d need a rather large pocket to hold your Wenger Giant, that’s not true with the abundance of question types available to you in a conversation. You just need experience, skill and knowledge for when to pull them out of your pocket. 

Questions are essential tools to help you manage your conversations. They can be used to accomplish multiple objectives. Here’s a list of 16 to keep in mind. 

With a question you can:

  1. Start or end a conversation
  2. Obtain important information (facts, feelings and motivations)
  3. Clarify needs
  4. Confirm an understanding
  5. Engage someone in a dialogue
  6. Show a sincere interest
  7. Make a point
  8. Provoke thoughts or feelings
  9. Connect, relate to and learn about another’s experience
  10. Open other’s minds to a world of information and ideas
  11. Direct and guide the action in a conversation
  12. Interrupt politely
  13. Be consultative
  14. Direct the focus of a conversation
  15. Provide a useful distraction
  16. Keep someone talking—something that will help you to listen better

While it’s commonly believed that the results of your conversations are driven by what you say in them, I’ve learned that isn’t necessarily the case. What matters more in conversations with others is what they say in response to my questions. Their answers to my questions drive the results.

Despite the powerful benefits and utility of using questions, my observation is that most people don’t ask them with confidence or intentionally use them as conversational tools. Some don’t ask any questions at all. Their default is talking about topics important to themselves rather than asking questions and listening to others talk about their needs, their experiences and their lives. 

Challenge yourself to use questions in a strategic fashion. Take advantage of what questions can do to increase the impact of your conversations.