“There’s more power in the questions you ask than in the answers you give.”
This quote is from John Marshall, a Seattle-based business coach. I had the pleasure of sitting in the audience for one of his presentations last week. His quote resonated with me. Why?
Well, I think I’ve always been enamored with questions. As a reporter, my job was to ask questions. Questions have long been my friends. By asking questions, I got the answers necessary to write articles, to explain complex issues in simple language, to get paid to learn about unusual topics and then translate to the readership what I’d learned. I love questions.
Still, John’s quote made me pause. I thought about this for a bit. Questions are useful, not just in acquiring facts, but for interacting with another human being on a meaningful level. When we ask questions, we are telling another person that they are important, that we value what they have to share, that we care. Questions, when phrased with candor and a positive tone, are a complement to someone on the receiving end.
As a writer and reporter, I’ve had the great privilege to ask questions of some fascinating people. I remember interviewing the late Artist Jade Reidel, a painter. Before she met me, other reporters had only asked her about her technique. But I delved deeper. She told me stories that she had never told another living soul—stories about her childhood during the Second World War and what it was like for her and her brother to escape the Japanese army on foot through the jungles of Papua New Guinea.
I asked the late Record Producer Louis-Victor Mialy what it was like to produce albums for Legendary French Singer Edith Piaf. I asked PGA Pro Golfer Greg Norman about architecture. And I asked Florida Everglades Fishing Guide Snapper Butler about the meaning of life.
The questions have always been my gateway to the world. If I had been more interested in what I had to say, than in what my subjects were telling me, I’d have missed out on the good stuff. My presumptions, my ego, could have overpowered the best part of the story. Through practice, I’ve learned to check my ego at the door and leave my preconceived notions at home. And so, at the end of every interview, I ask the most open-ended, permission-giving question of all: “Is there anything that I didn’t ask you that you think I should?”
Oh, the answers I have received…
Stacie Zinn Roberts is a nationally recognized, award-winning writer and marketing expert with more than 25 years of experience. She has won more than 40 national awards for her work including the United Nations Environmental Program for retail environmental marketing, as well as from organizations such at the Public Relations Society of America and the Turf & Ornamental Communicators Association. She’s written for industry publications such as Golf Course Management, Sports Turf, Golfdom and PR Daily. She spent eight years as the president and director of marketing for Environmental Turf, where she developed the branding for SeaDwarf Seashore Paspalum, the grass that eventually became the greens grass for the Rio Olympic Golf Course. Stacie served for six years on the Board of Directors of the Florida Turfgrass Association as Chair of the Research & Scholarship Committee where she worked closely with the scientists from the University of Florida’s turfgrass breeding program. Stacie founded What’s Your Avocado? Marketing & Public Relations in 2012.