A million-dollar life skill
(why isn't this taught in school?)
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Now, onto Issue 42.
A Quick Update
Several of you have reached out over the last few weeks asking: Where the heck has The Process been?
And I thank you for that! I love this community we’re building.
Here’s the short answer:
In July, we moved from Los Angeles to Chapel Hill, North Carolina. A cross-country move with a 3-year-old and 1-year-old is a lot of work.
During the same time period, we also publicly launched a new company I co-founded, Alto Studios. The demand has been overwhelming.
All that is to say, it has been an incredibly busy last month, and I had very little time to write.
But we’re back in the saddle. You can expect The Process every Sunday morning going forward like usual.
I hope y’all have had a wonderful summer.
A million-dollar life skill
Google the most valuable professional skills.
You’ll see things like:
All of them are extremely valuable.
But there’s one glaring omission from these lists:
Asking effective questions.
In my experience, learning how to ask questions is the most underrated skill in business, and possibly life.
To do any of the above skills well, you must be great at seeking and uncovering critical information.
Asking questions helps you:
Understand your market
Connect with customers
Lead and develop people
And many other things.
But the problem, almost nobody is trained on this critical skill. Most people fumble their way through awkward, confusing questions that don’t yield insightful answers.
I was fortunate to be trained on this skill early in my career, and I want to share a simple framework to help you in your career and life.
How to ask effective questions
I studied journalism in college and began my career as an editor and writer at ESPN.
In my first week at ESPN, I attended a seminar led by John Sawatsky.
You probably don’t know John, but you should.
He’s a world-class journalist and an expert on interviewing.
For 2+ decades, he’s trained journalists on how to ask questions to get insightful information out of people.
Nearly every host, reporter and analyst to come through ESPN in the last 20+ years has attended a Sawatsky workshop.
His framework for asking effective questions has 3 parts:
Let’s unpack what each mean.
Effective questions are open-ended.
Open questions invite deeper dialogue.
They encourage the person to expand.
Closed questions (yes/no) do the opposite.
Open question start with words such as what, how and why.
Closed questions start with words like did, is, are and should.
Examples of open-ended questions:
What did you learn in that process?
Why do people struggle with that?
How would you solve this problem?
These questions are probing for conversation.
They generally can’t be answered with a yes/no.
Examples of closed-ended questions:
Did you buy the truck?
Is the steak here good?
Are you going to the game?
Should we go on a hike today?
These questions are transactional.
Most times they will lead to a quick response that lacks depth.
Ask open-ended questions as often as possible.
Effective questions are neutral.
Neutral questions don’t “lead” the subject.
They allow them to naturally follow their curiosity.
Non-neutral questions are often called “loaded questions.”
Consciously or subconsciously, they’re biased.
Examples of neutral questions:
What inspired that?
What happened next?
How did you decide that?
Why did you do it that way?
How would you explain this?
These questions have no bias.
They are objective and curious.
Examples of non-neutral questions:
Why do you get defensive so easily?
How were you able to show such courage?
What makes your company the best in the industry?
These questions carry an assumption or opinion.
Positively or negatively, they are “loaded.”
Ask neutral questions as often as possible.
Effective questions are lean.
Complex questions are hard to answer.
Simple questions produce thoughtful insight.
Make it easy for the subject to answer your question.
Examples of lean questions:
What happened then?
What did you do next?
How did it go?
Most people are far too verbose when asking questions.
Be simple and direct, then get out of the way.
Example of a non-lean question:
One of my favorite things to do is long endurance events. What type of physical challenges do you enjoy, what do you learn from them and what’s been your favorite?
See the problem?
There’s a statement followed by three separate questions.
If you’re answering this, you don’t even know where to begin.
Sawatsky’s 3 principles for effective questions:
Ask open-ended questions
Keep them neutral
Make them lean
Action item for you:
Start paying attention to how you ask questions.
It’s okay if you’re not nailing these three principles right now.
Like any skill, this will take time to develop and the first step is awareness.
Once you’re aware of how you tend to ask questions, make a deliberate effort to ask open, neutral and lean questions.
I find it helpful to pause an extra second or two before asking a question. That gives me the space to think about how I can reframe the question to align with these principles.
With questions, less is more.
Practice this every day, and you’ll be shocked at the results.
Idea for the Week
“Beyond mountains, there are mountains.”
I explain what that means in the tweet below.
Take that idea into this week and stay present on the mountain you’re on.
There’s a famous Haitian proverb.
I’ve been thinking about it lately as we build Alto.
The most common translation is five simple words:
BEYOND MOUNTAINS THERE ARE MOUNTAINS.
The lesson is simple: Life is full of challenges, and there’s always another coming.
Right now at… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…
— Teddy Mitrosilis (@TMitrosilis)
Aug 10, 2023
I’d love to hear from you
What’s your biggest takeaway from this issue?
Reply to this email and let me know.
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Thanks for reading.
See you next Sunday.