What’s in a question?

Mar 02, 2020

Asking questions is a critical skill if you want to understand and anticipate your clients’ needs.

One of our company’s core values is “We are Partners.” Our lasting relationships with clients and communities deliver success and value. We care about our client’s business. We are beyond helpful – anticipating our client’s needs. We are good stewards of our client’s resources. We participate in the community by giving our time, talents, and resources. We value diversity and we take care of our people, and our clients take care of us.

How do we learn about our client’s business, enough to care? How do we anticipate our client’s needs? How do we know what our client’s resources are? How can we best give back to the community, in a meaningful way? How can we take the best care of our people?

Success in any of these efforts relies on the art and skill of asking questions. One method of questioning is called Socratic questioning – a disciplined method of questioning that is thoughtful, logical, strategic, and intentional. Socratic questioning is used to learn, to teach, to explore, to understand, to validate ideas, to connect, to uncover assumptions, to convince, to overcome inaccuracies, to gain confidence, to demonstrate confidence, to create relationships, to anticipate, to know more, to challenge what we know, etc. The power to become “partners” with our clients, our people, and our community – all starts with learning to ask the obvious questions but then learning to probe deeper, using a method such as Socratic questioning.

A simple example to share: A co-worker stopped by an open house with his wife one Sunday afternoon. Immediately when the real estate broker approached them, he began to show them around and pointed out all the key features of the home, the remodeled bathrooms, the open floor plan, the backyard, and many more features that the broker thought made the home an attractive buy. Afterward, he and his wife left to continue with their afternoon.

The one question the broker never asked, from the time these potential clients walked in the door until the time they left, was, “What are you looking for in a home?” That one simple question was missing, and they left without further interest in the home.

How often do we meet with a client, new or existing, and forget to ask the basic as well as the deeper questions to fully understand their needs? Every project starts as a business need (always!) so how often do you know what that business need is? How often do you fully understand who the stakeholders are and “what keeps them up at night?” How often do you mentor others by asking them questions (versus giving the quick reply)? How often do you ask interesting questions of your co-workers, with the intention to connect? How many new and interesting things have you learned about one of your long-time co-workers in the past six months?

Questioning, and Socratic questioning specifically, is a critical skill we encourage each of you to develop. Becoming a partner requires more than technical or design ability, it requires digging deeper to better understand and serve your clients, your teams, and your communities.

Kate Allen is principal-in-charge at BSA LifeStructures. Contact her at kallen@bsalifestructures.com.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.