"That's a great question."

Getting that response in a conversation is often more satisfying than hearing, "that's a great answer." Why? Because it means that you've made someone think in a different way about the issue at hand -- and that's not always easy.

The ability to reliably ask good questions can help out in most situations. Talking with a prospective or current client, interviewing or being interviewed as a job candidate, and leading your team are all times when great questions lead to more precise, effective, and innovative solutions.

Being known as someone who asks great questions can also advance your career. Being a reliably good question-asker demonstrates that you're paying attention, you care, and you understand the nuances of the problem well enough to go beneath the surface.

Asking great questions can be tricky because most of us need time to process information. It's typically long after the initial meeting, on the commute home that we think, "Huh, I wonder how they're going to deal with that part of the problem."

There's a way around that processing delay. Keep a set of go-to questions in your mind and use them whenever you're presented with a new idea, project or problem.

The best questions are simple and open-ended, prompting the answerer to give long-form, detailed responses. Here are ten general ones that you can use in various settings.

  1. When did you first realize you were interested in this topic?
  2. What surprised you when you started digging into the background/details?
  3. What assumptions did you make when developing this approach or solution?
  4. What unanswered questions do you have on this topic?
  5. What industry trends might change the problem we're trying to solve?
  6. What is the best source of information on this topic?
  7. What would you recommend to someone just starting out in this field?
  8. What one superpower would help you solve this problem for good?
  9. If you had to start over from scratch tomorrow, what would you do differently?
  10. What were you afraid of that never happened? Where were you most afraid of that did happen?

Having a couple of go-to questions enables you to relax and listen closely for additional stuff that will greatly increase your (and everyone else's') understanding of the issue.