Build better relationships through better questions and a different mindset

You can deepen relationships with your clients, gain more clients and ultimately increase your bottom line — all without spending a dime or working more hours — if you’re willing to change your mindset.

It’s possible you’re limiting your potential by asking yourself the wrong questions and locking in place a mindset that stops growth. In the classic text “Change your questions, change your life,” Marilee Adams, Ph.D., demonstrates how to ask questions that will move you out of a fixed mindset and into a growth mindset. Here’s how those principles work.

Fixed mindset versus growth mindset

“We don’t have much control over what happens, but we can choose how we relate to what happens,” Adams writes.

We tend to construct narratives about our lives as they are happening. Standing in line at the post office, we might think to ourselves, “What’s taking so long?”

This type of question is what Adams refers to as a “judging” or “judger” questions. These types of questions lead to a fixed mindset in which we tend to see things one way and as unchangeable.

We can change the type of story we are telling ourselves, however, by changing how we ask questions of ourselves and others.

So while waiting in line at the post office, we might instead ask ourselves a “learning” or “learner” question such as, “How can I make the best use of this time?”

Recognizing judging questions

Judging questions seek to create a narrative of blame. They’re automatic responses and can lead us into a pit of despair. Because they are automatic, they can often be hard to spot. A clue can be tension in the body or a feeling of stress.

When the “judger” part of the mind can’t find an external source, it often turns on itself, with questions like “What’s wrong with me?” or “Why can’t I do anything right?”

Fortunately, once you learn to recognize the judging questions, you can move into a learning mindset, by using what Adams refers to as “switching questions.” By using questions like “What can I learn from this?” or “What assumptions am I making?” you open your mind to a more receptive state.

Applying the tools

This is all well and good, but how can you apply these lessons to your business?

One useful tool from the book is called “Q-storming” or “question-storming.” Question-storming is a form of brainstorming in which you set aside a period of time (10 minutes, for example) and ask only questions. During this period, you avoid answering questions and also avoid asking judgment questions. The point is to explore a situation from many possible angles.

Let’s say you have a client who has expressed dissatisfaction with some of your recommendations. You might begin a question storming session by asking yourself, “What is the other person thinking, feeling or wanting?”

If any potential solutions pop up, jot them on a sticky note or index card and put them aside. For now, keep asking questions until your timer runs out. If you run out of ideas you can refer to “the 12 questions that lead to success” from the book. In the end, review your question list and you will find a plethora of options that you might never have explored under normal thought processes.

The beauty of this process is that you can apply it to any stuck area in your life, including personal and client relationships. Developing a learning mindset is a skill that requires a lot of practice. However, by developing “learning questions,” you can hone that skill and create win-win scenarios for you and your clients.

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