“Knowledge is having the right answers. Intelligence is asking the right questions.” - unknown
Listening, in my view, is the most important skill in building a partnership. But questions are the tool that create opportunities to listen (called conversations) and fuel partnerships.
Some people collect teddy bears, snow globes or antiques. I like to collect questions. Below are a dozen questions for you to consider using in your partnerships, interviews and negotiations. Share your favorite questions with me and I’ll include them in a follow-up (just let me know if you want to be named or not).
To your business partner (e.g. channel, platform, strategic, etc.)
How is your success measured?
To pursue a shared objective, you need to understand your partner’s incentives. This is true at both the individual and the company-level. If you haven’t asked this of your partner yet, ask today. This can also be phrased as “what can we be doing more to help you succeed?,” which is easier to ask on an ongoing basis.
What are your organization’s top priorities?
How your partner responds to this question can reveal much about the level of trust you have (or haven’t) established. Many organizations put their priorities into a document or graphic that is widely shared internally. If your partner will share this with you it can serve as a roadmap for how best to grow the partnership.
How do you describe our partnership internally?
Sometimes asking an indirect question can uncover a more honest answer.
To the candidate you’re interviewing
What’s the difference between someone who is great in your role versus someone who’s outstanding?
Talented people take their craft seriously. They analyze how their role breakdown into a collection of skills. And they have the self-awareness to know where they are strong versus weak. (credit: Matt Humphrey)
How did you prepare for this interview?
Candidates rarely anticipate this question and it’s impossible to bullshit. If the candidate has done extensive prep for the job, it speaks volumes about their desire for the role. And what better signal for how they will prepare for important meetings once they are in the role than how they prepared for the interview? (credt: Jonah Greenberger)
Tell me about a time you made a mistake or failed at something. What did you learn from this experience? Can you give me two other examples?
Most candidates prepare to speak about a weakness. This question goes deeper, it demands more vulnerability and exposes the candidates’ self-awareness. We all make mistakes. This question asks the depth to which the candidate as reflects upon their mistakes. (credit: Corley Hughes)
To your interviewer
Is there anything about my skills and experience that doesn’t line up with what you need for this role?
This question is aimed uncovering what is often not addressed directly during an interview: do you view me as a fit for this role? What better time to discuss that than during the interview?! I’ve been on both sides of this question and I find it a valuable opportunity to get to the heart of the matter at hand.
If I’m fortunate enough to get this job, what will I come back to you in 6 months and give you a hard time about for not sharing during this interview?
This question signals that you already understand that organizations are messy and there is a lot about the role that they are not telling you about during the interview. The question tries to get your interviewer to think past this evaluation phase to when you are both colleagues. Some interviewers will maintain a poker face. But I’ve found this question can be a useful way to get a window into the reality you will face once in the role (if you’re lucky).
What do I need to deliver in this role for your next annual review to be the best you’ve ever had?
Show you are invested in their success from day 1.
Before a meeting
What is the agenda and what are we trying to accomplish?
Life is too short to attend meetings without an agenda and a clear objective. Ask this over email before the meeting begins. Then, if the agenda and objective isn’t stated at the outset of the meeting, ask the meeting leader to clarify so that everyone is on the same page. If everyone followed this simple rule, billions of hours could be saved.
When your email gets no response
Are you giving up on this opportunity?
No one wants to view themself as a quitter. When someone doesn’t respond to your email outreach simply writing this question can be an effective way to provoke them into responding. (credit: former FBI negotiator Chris Voss)
To anyone asking you to do something unreasonable
How would you suggest I do that?
“The secret to gaining the upper hand in a negotiation is giving the other side the illusion of control,” writes Chris Voss. Rather than argue over the path forward, this question enlists your negotiating partner in helping find a solution.
Never Split the Difference, Chris Voss