I was recently with family who had several young children. It was fascinating to watch how curious they were about everything. It seems every sentence started with "why" or "how."
Even though it drove their parents a bit nutty, I really wish we could hang on to more of our curiosity and a need to learn and understand.
Here's a story I did for Gannett/USAToday on why you may want to tap into that inner 5-year-old at work....
If you think always having the right answer is the key to career success, you may be wrong.
According to Andrew Sobel, having the right questions — not just the right answers — is what really can set you apart. Making the right queries can get you a new job, impress your chief executive or help you land a new client.
"A lot of people ask really terrible questions, or they ask a question and keep talking until they answer the question themselves," says Sobel, co-author with Jerold Panas of Power Questions: Build Relationships, Win New Business, and Influence Others (Wiley, $22.95).
But the real power of questions comes from listening to the answer, he says. By doing so, you make the other person feel valued.
Good questions can help distinguish you from other job seekers or even help you get out of hot water with the boss, he says.
He suggests that questions help forge a connection with someone else so you become more memorable and also help you navigate difficult conversations or resolve problems.
Questions can help in numerous situations, such as:
• A job interview. "Recruiters I've talked to tell me most people don't ask questions in an interview or ask terrible ones such as 'What do you do?' or 'How much vacation do I get?' " Sobel says.
Instead, build credibility by phrasing questions around your own abilities: "When I think back to my experience managing a sales force, I can think of three areas that were challenging. What are the challenging issues for you?"
He also suggests asking questions that tap into someone's passion, such as, "What do you love most about working here?"
• Face-to-face with the CEO. Maybe you're on a long elevator ride or get a chance to chit-chat at a company gathering, but take the opportunity to ask the head honcho questions that will engage him or her.
Sobel says CEOs most hate the question "So, what keeps you up at night?" He suggests asking "I know we've got a lot of new initiatives going on that sound great to me. What are you most excited about?"
He also says that many top bosses love being asked, "So how did you get your start?" He suggests steering away from queries about the company stock price or store expansion, which can be boring topics for chief executives.
• Helping your career. If the boss cares about something, then so should you.
Only by tapping into a boss's concerns or goals can you align your actions to help that person be successful, which also will make you successful. Sobel suggests asking, "I'm curious about what expectations our leaders have asked of you this year, and how can I better support you in that?"
• When you mess up. Maybe a presentation starts badly or you say something awkward and the conversation becomes uncomfortable.
Sobel suggests saying, "I've gotten off on the wrong foot, and I'm really sorry. Do you mind if I begin again?" Another way to get back on track: "Can I ask how you have been thinking about this?" or "Can you share your view of the situation?"
Many people just starting talking faster and faster when they know they're off track when it's better to take a deep breath and stop talking.
"Most people want you to win, and it can be very powerful to just reset the conversation by starting over," he says.
• Networking. Lots of people hate events where they have to strike up a conversation with strangers or people they don't know well.
Sobel says it's easier if you begin by asking low-risk, innocuous questions: "How long have you worked here?" or "Where did you grow up?"
The point is to make people feel like you're interested in a connection through your questions and careful listening, he says.