How can you cut to the chase? What’s an effective approach for clearing the air of ambiguity and getting to facts? Ask cutting questions. A cutting question is simply a question that cuts to the chase and reveals insightful information. The most effective people I see, don’t ask a lot of questions. They ask the right ones.
Examples of Cutting Questions
Here’s some examples of cutting questions:
- Who’s on board? This is a reality check of whether you have the support you need. If you’re honest here, you can quickly realize who you need to get on board or at least be aware of some threats to your plans.
- Who are five customers that stand behind you? My previous manager, Per, always asks this question to litmus test the value of a project. As simple as it sounds, having five separate customers stand behind you is a start. I’m in the habit of litmus checking my path early on to see who’s on board or to find the resistance. As customers get on board, my confidence goes up. I’ve also seen this cutting question work well with startups. I’ve asked a few startups about their five customers. Some had great ideas, but no customers on board. The ones that had at least five are still around.
- Next steps? At the end of any meeting, Per never fails to ask “next steps?”, and the meeting quickly shifts from talk to action.
- What does your gut say? This is about checking your intuition. Per taught me to check my intuition by asking what my gut says, before doing deeper analysis. It’s a great sanity check. Many times your gut will say one thing, while your logical mind might say another. W/hat I’ve found is that often my intuition picks up on something
- Is it working? Is it effective? “Is it working?” is a pretty cutting question. It’s great because it forces you to step back and reflect on your results and consider a change in approach.
- What would “x” say? (for example, what would your peers say?) This is a great perspective question. It forces you to see through other people’s eyes. Usually, you can figure out what somebody might say. If there’s resistance, this is something to pay attention to. You may not like what you think people will say, but at least you’re prepared.
- What’s their story? This is about empathic listening. If you’re only analyzing the situation from your side, see how well you can tell the story through the other person’s eyes. This can be very revealing and lead you to new insights or at least better understanding.
- Where’s your prioritized list of scenarios? A scenario is simply a usage scenario or story. For example, let’s say you have a bunch of chores for fixing your house. Instead of a laundry list of tasks, you can group them by meaningful scenarios. For example, one scenario might be you want to relax on your deck. Another scenario might be you want to play in the yard. You can then prioritize the tasks that make those scenarios possible. I’ve used this approach for all types of projects from housework to yard work to building software.
Practice Your Cutting Questions
You have a lot of chances every day to practice cutting questions:
- Self-talk. Thinking is just asking and answering questions. Improve the questions you ask yourself to improve your answers.
- Reading. When you’re pleasure reading, it’s fine to let your mind wander. When you’re reading to learn, the best approach is to ask cutting questions so that you can quickly find the information you need.
- On the job. You can ask cutting questions of your performance. You can ask cutting questions of your manager to figure out what they value and what their top concerns are. You can ask cutting questions for any project work you take on.
The beauty is you get lots of chances to practice every day if you look for them. You can really improve your cutting questions simply by testing different questions throughout the day, and tuning your approach.
Improving Your Questioning Skills
Improve your questioning skills. There’s lots of techniques for improving your questioning skills. Here are some of my related posts:
- Generalization, Deletion, and Distortion
- Precision Model for Avoiding Language Pitfalls
- Precision Questions and Precision Answers
- How To Use the PMI Technique
- How To Use the Six Thinking Hats
- Asking Better Questions
- Solution-Focused Questions
- Outcome Questions
- 3 Interview Questions for Picking the Right People
The more effective you get at asking cutting questions, the less surprised you’ll be. Better questions leads to better information. Better information leads to better decisions, thoughts, feelings, and actions.
What’s your favorite cutting questions?