By Debra Benton (President, Benton Management Resources)
Asking questions seems to be very basic advice. Yet it is shocking the number of times a day you chose to “tell” instead of “ask”. The most successful leaders ask more then they tell.

People like you better if you ask them things rather than tell them things.

You don’t ask to impress, interrogate, intimidate, dominate, embarrass, put people in the corner, ‘nail’ others on something, catch people off guard, be nosy, or verbally stalk.

You do ask to learn, maintain other’s self-esteem, focus on others instead of yourself, verify what you already know, test what you think, develop trust, and to avoid coming across as a know-it-all.

Aside from the classic “who, what, when, why, where and how” which works in most any conversation, some of my favorite questions to ask in business and social situations; online and offline:

  • What was the smartest decision you made… this month… in your life?
  • What is the proudest accomplishment last year?
  • What is the biggest thing you’re working on this year… this month?
  • What was the kindest, most generous-spirited thing you saw someone else do?
  • Who was the person (or people) who had the greatest impact on your life last year… ever?
  • What was the biggest risk you took recently… or in your life?
  • What compliment were you proudest to receive?
  • What are you most committed to changing or improving in your life… your work… yourself?
  • Have you been anywhere recently that you enjoyed?

I generally avoid asking:

  • Had any surgery lately?
  • Ever been in prison?
  • What’s your religious, political, or sexual inclination?

Be sure to volunteer information without being asked to keep the balance in the conversation. One CEO said, “I give a little and then I always get more back.” If you only ask and “take’ but not “give,” people will stop answering.

Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below.
About the guest blogger: Debra Benton is President at Benton Management Resources. Her focus is to “help you work differently and be different at work; to take you from promise to prominence.” Her expertise has given her front-page coverage in The Wall Street Journal and USA Today (Money) and made her a welcome guest on the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNN – and interviewed by Diane Sawyer for CBS. Follow her on Twitter at @debrabenton.