A simple exercise with profound implications

One of the topics I cover on various courses is that of  Questioning Skills.  A basic subject, and most people recognise its importance.  Most have also been “taught” it and reckon they are pretty good it at.  So when I cover it I use an exercise which acts as a wake up call pretty well every time.  Often the group fails to get the answer, or does so very inefficiently.  I actually find that the more experienced people in the room often are worst at it, for reasons I’ll come on to.

So let’s see whether you can get it.  Imagine you can ask me 20 questions, anything you like, and I’ll give you an honest answer every time.  Do you think you would find out the answer to this one:







Did you get it?  If you did, you’re the exception.

I must have used this exercise hundreds of times.  What happens most often is that people assume they know the answer and use closed questions to prove it.  Did he find out his business had gone bankrupt?  Was he upset?  Etc.  To which I give closed answers, and they get nowhere fast.

The thing is, I used to teach clarinet and saxophone, mainly to kids, as an energiser.  Guess what?  8 years olds get this in 5!  We “grown ups” know so damn much we can’t keep an open mind, and as a result we can’t ask an open question.  Profound?  You bet!  If you can’t ask an open question you probably can’t sell, because you find it so hard to get close to what is going on for the customer.  You don’t get to the root of  things, which means you are operating in “spray and pray” mode, as I like to call it.  Inefficient at best, disrespectful, opinionated and arrogant at worst.

I so enjoy this conversation in a training room, particularly when they think they know it all.  If you didn’t get the answer, I’m happy to tell you.  But you’ll have to send me an email first!

How do you feel about that?! 


About Michael Brown Training

I'm a business skills trainer, facilitator and coach. I've been helping people to learn for 16 years, working all around the world on topics such as Negotiation, Conflict Handling, Sales, Leadership, Consulting and Personal Effectiveness. I'm an ENFP, constantly looking for new and inspiring things to do. I love my job for its variety and the stimulation I get from it, and spend most of my time seeing how far we can go with the subjects we work on in the training room. I've recently started a new venture in making video on how NOT to do things, which you can find at www.hownot2.com
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2 Responses to A simple exercise with profound implications

  1. spencer says:

    nice exercise Mike, I’ve used it too and think you sum up the points really well – problem is we know too much to see straight! Can I borrow that succinct summary in future?

    I see people use the exercise to try and PROVE how clever they are (and of course insodoing manage to achieve exactly the opposite!) – most common “clever” question “is Eric a diabetic?”


    • Indeed Spencer. The other thing it throws out is how quickly people in a group jump into the task without considering a process for even one second. They normally realise this around question 15!

      Also you often get the same question two or three times, showing how poorly people listen when they have a question in their head!

      It’s like the essence on communication dysfunctionality, all wrapped up in one innocent looking exercise! Magic!


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