It quite often makes sense to reply by providing an immediate solution when a customer or colleague asks you a question. Especially being the content expert this is what you are good since it belongs to your comfort zone. It can be very useful when you are pressured for time for instance, but it can also make you miss important information.
By asking followup questions and particularly by asking the right questions, you get a more exact view on the situation. On which level is the other person and what is on his mind? It helps you to discover the question behind the question more quickly which then will allow you to offer an even better solution. At the same time you are adding more structure and direction to the conversation. One of the techniques which wil help you is: chunking.
The term chunking comes from Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) and it’s a way of looking at situations from different perspectives.
Up chunking: First step is to zoom out and look carefully at the question and the need behind it. Questions at this level are about the higher purpose and the why. What is the reason why….? Why is this important to you? What do you hope to accomplish with this?
Side chunking: Next step is to broaden the conversation and to look at what else is happening and/or is needed. It will help you to get a better and more complete view on the situation. What else is happening? What more would you like to achieve? What else can I do for you?
Down chunking: At the end of your conversation you need to get more specific in order to come up with a solution and to reach an agreement. You will deepen your questions to clarify content and results. What exactly needs to change? Can you give an example? When does this have to be done?
Not only can it be a disadvantage to get into a content related conversation too soon. I can also become unclear when the conversations remains abstract and is finished without agreements or actions being set. If a broader level is not reached, you might be missing the opportunity to create extra business. So, a full conversation entails all 3 levels: abstract, broad and specific.
Think about these three levels and which one you prefer. Now try asking questions on the other two levels.