The Great Question(s)…

Well actually it is not the great questions but more the great types of questions. We will leave the list of great questions for the philosophical blogs, not the ones on consulting excellence.

The type of question is more important to the excellent consultant. Lets look at some example questions.


Clint Eastwood playing Dirty Harry. He chases down a criminal, points his gun at him, challenging him to a shoot-out and says “Do you feel lucky punk? Well do you?”. In consulting terms we would refer to this as an implication question. The implication in this case being a life or death answer to the question.

Perception questions get your client to talk about what they are thinking about a subject. Take a pointer from “The Longest Yard”. Burt Reynolds plays Paul Crewe , jailed for car theft, but really shunned for when he was quarterback of an NFL team, throwing the game.,

Paul Crewe: You take your football down here real serious, don’t you?
Caretaker: You mind if I ask you one question?
Paul Crewe: Yes, I do mind!
Caretaker: Why did you do it?        (Perception)
Paul Crewe: It’s a long story.
Caretaker: Well, I got eight years.


Exploring. Just to prove that I don’t just watch “guy-flicks”. Sleepless in Seattle – Tom Hanks as Sam Baldwin.


Doctor Marcia Fieldstone: Tell me what was so special about your wife? (exploring)
Sam Baldwin: Well, how long is your program? Well, it was a million tiny little things that, when you added them all up, they meant we were suppose to be together… and I knew it. I knew it the very first time I touched her. It was like coming home… only to no home I’d ever known… I was just taking her hand to help her out of a car and I knew. It was like… magic.

Commitment Questions.


In the movie “Pretty Woman”, Richard Gere plays Edward Lewis. In the scene where he asks the store manager (Hollister) for some special attention to be paid to the Vivian Ward played by Julia Roberts.

Mr. Hollister: Just how obscene an amount of cash are we talking about here? Profane or really offensive?  (commitment)
Edward Lewis: Really offensive.
Mr. Hollister: I like him so much.



· Give you control during the meeting    (see my blog on Consulting Lessons from Goldie Hawn )

· Focus you on the client’s interest

· Give you time to listen carefully

· Provide the information you require

There are two primary categories of questions. Opening and Closing. The goal is to learn when to use the correct type of question!

Three Types of Opening Out Questions

Fact-finding Questions

  • When is the deadline?
  • What are the business objectives?
  • How many sites are in the network?
  • Where are they located?

Note that these are open questions that cannot be answered by a yes or a no. Be aware that if you ask too many fact-finding questions one after another – the client will feel as though he or she is being interrogated. Using too many of these questions leads to:

  • One-sided conversations
  • Embarrassment if the client does not have all the facts
  • The inference that you have a solution if you can have the facts

To avoid these traps:

  • Intersperse your fact-finding questions with exploring and perception questions
  • Establish a balanced, conversational style

Exploring Questions

  • Why did you choose that particular sequence?
  • What caused you to reject the original plan?
  • When did the problem arise?
  • How difficult do you see the design task?

These questions uncover underlying issues. They involve the client and encourage a deeper understanding of the situation.

Perception Questions

  • What do you think about?
  • What is your opinion?
  • Where do you see the benefits?
  • Does ….. share that view?
  • What is …..’s opinion?

These questions establish attitudes and opinions. They reassure the client that his or her viewpoint is considered and important.

Three Types of Closing Down Questions

Implication Questions

  • What effect will that have on the system?
  • What does that represent in lost revenue?
  • Will that mean taking on more people?
  • What effect will that have on security?

These questions help test options and possibilities. They also help the client and the consultant clarify the particular situation and the hidden costs of doing nothing

Added-Value Questions

  • In summary, where do you see the added value of this new approach?
  • What might be the benefits of X? For you? For others?
  • What profit improvements are you looking to achieve?
  • What business improvements do you see in this application? Increased customer service? …..Improved job satisfaction?

Use these questions to highlight the value of options and possible solutions.

Confirmation and Commitment Questions

  • I get the impression that you view is ….. Am I right?
  • The main issues I have noted are these ….. Am I right?
  • Would you add any other alternatives?
  • Do we have a common understanding of ….?
  • Can I say in my report at you support this alternative?

Use these questions to check your understanding, and to gain explicit agreement and support.


One of the most important techniques I have ever learned is to plan every meeting with a series of questions before I attend. I always categorize them as open and closing question. Open questions I use early in the meeting, closing I use towards then end of the meeting. The goal of each is to have a conclusion that is agreed to and committed to.

Learn how to ask the right questions.

What do you think about that?

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5 Responses to The Great Question(s)…

  1. Dan says:

    Excellent topic. When I was interviewing potential consultants, I\’d always paint them a customer scenario and then ask the applicatin "What questions would you ask?" Their responses revealed a lot about their consulting experence and preferences. I agree with almost all of your post, except the "Am I right?" series of questions. While confirmation is important, I prefer to use \’next step\’ type questions near the end. The binary nature of the "Am I right?" responses I find limiting. I don\’t object to the implication of "Am I right?" questions, just the phrasing (and maybe you weren\’t suggesting that exact phrasing). I like to leave the meeting with momentum to the next set of tasks / investigations / research / etc.

  2. Ian says:

    Agreed. Confirmation questions can be limiting. An alternative approach may be to just summarize the information taken from the meeting with a confirmation of "does that fairly repsent what we discussed? Is there anything you would like to modify add? Then next steps. Thanks for the valuable feedback.

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