The Power of Asking Questions

At an EduCon 2023 Business School session in Montréal, the University of Texas’ Gaylen Paulson shared a proven strategy for becoming an expert in one’s field.

Author: Casey Gale       

man in blue plaid and gray jacket

Speaking June 27 at PCMA EduCon 2023, Gaylen Paulson of the University of Texas at Austin’s McCombs School of Business laughs with attendees.

Here’s a nugget of business advice from the PCMA EduCon 2023 Business School session “Gain Support for Your Ideas Through Advocacy, Influence, and Power”: In any scenario where you’re looking to display and expand your expertise in your field, don’t make assertions — instead, ask more questions.

“I assume that you are very knowledgeable about your product, your service, what it is that you bring to the table — you understand your industry, and that stuff is important,” said Gaylen Paulson, associate dean and executive director of Texas Executive Education at the University of Texas at Austin’s McCombs School of Business in his June 27 session. “You know what really matters to people? It’s not necessarily how much you understand about your business and what you’re doing, but how much you understand about them,” Paulson said, adding that many prospective clients feel they cannot work with someone unless they innately understand them and their organization’s mission.

Research shows, Paulson said, that experts in various fields ask far more questions than they present arguments. “Experts are great at asking questions — sometimes three, four, five times as many questions as what average people ask,” he said.

Paulson gave an orthodox example of the power of asking questions: speed dating. In a study of people at a speed-dating event, researchers found the greatest predictor of whether someone would like to go on a second date — after the top reason, physical attraction — was if the other person signaled interest in them by asking questions.

“It’s a really interesting and very effective way to be a better conversationalist,” Paulson said. “Ask lots of questions and see if that doesn’t help you out in terms of building rapport and connection, and it also is going to help you develop your expertise.”

Casey Gale is managing editor at Convene.

Become a Member

Get premium access to provocative executive-level education, face-to-face networking and business intelligence.