Episode 21: Frank Sesno: How to Ask More (and Better) Questions

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On this episode of The Manage Your Message Podcast, host Jim Karrh talks with Emmy award-winning journalist, teacher, and author Frank Sesno. Frank has a familiar voice, given his 21 years at CNN as White House Correspondent, anchor and Washington Bureau Chief. He has interviewed thousands of people including five U.S. presidents, numerous other national and international leaders, and business icons such as Bill Gates.

Today Frank is the director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at The George Washington University. His book Ask More: The Power of Questions to Open Doors, Uncover Solutions, and Spark Change has strategic value and practical examples for business professionals.

Sesno said he is “alarmed that we assert more than we ask” these days. Journalists and business professionals are “all operating in information-overload mode” so we need a sound approach in order to rise above our instincts. His book details eleven categories of questions—Jim asks Frank about a few that are particularly relevant to business people, including:

Strategic Questions inform the big decisions, when it’s vital to look beyond the immediate horizon and make clear the objectives, risks, trade-offs, and alternatives. Sesno uses the example of Colin Powell, who used questions in a group to challenge assumptions and gain clarity. Powell’s “Commander’s Rule” was that the leader in strategy sessions speaks no more than 30 percent of the time.

Diagnostic Questions are needed in times when something just isn’t right. They can help you—along with your customer or prospect—identify a need and the right solution. A distressing reality is that doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals (who should be great at diagnoses) aren’t typically good at getting information from patients.

Mission Questions draw people into a partnership to address a big but solvable problem. As Sesno put it, “Mission questions ask more of everybody.” Think of the conversations around raising money for a cause, examining a mentoring program, or organizing a neighborhood activity.

Entertaining Questions are great when we want to network, connect, and entertain better—but aren’t extraverts or the life of the party. As Frank puts it, “You can be the host of your own talk show at home.”

In closing, Frank names some concerns he has for the future. We have become a culture more prone to arguing than to being curious. We need to learn how to be present and how to go deeper in conversation rather than to be fragmented. It won’t be easy, but this is the opportunity we have to connect to one another and to stand out.



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Article Jim mentioned from the Journal of General Internal Medicine, “Eliciting the Patient’s Agenda- Secondary Analysis of Recorded Clinical Encounters”:   https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11606-018-4540-5

Learn more about Frank Sesno here

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Learn more about Planet Forward here

Read Ask More: The Power of Questions to Open Doors, Uncover Solutions, and Spark Change by Frank Sesno

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