Letter II: The art of the question

My letters are typically published via email to your inbox, and I select a few every now and again to feature on the blog. Letter II was originally published by email on 7th February 2019, and was re-published on the blog on 8th August 2019. Subscribe at chrismarr.co.uk

“…it is impossible for a person to begin to learn what he thinks he already knows”

– Epictetus

Cara and I are fed up nagging Paddy every time he uses the bathroom to wipe his butt, flush the toilet and wash his hands.

Paddy isn’t materialistic so you can’t use the carrot and stick methodology with him because it doesn’t motivate him.

To change his behaviour, and for it to stick, It has to be about how his actions impact others. It has to be about the why and the purpose.

We’re going to have to take a different approach.


We are all consultants and coaches in some way or another.

  • At work – you might be selling something to a customer, or perhaps trying to sell an idea to your team.
  • At home – you are trying to help your daughter learn to drive, or perhaps helping your partner to solve a debt problem.

Throughout our whole lives, we are attempting to convince other people of our perspective, our ideas, our way.

Every day there are many situations where you attempt to change the behaviour of people.

Think about how often you say these things to your kids, your boss, your team, your friends, your spouse…

  • Can you do this now?
  • Stop that!
  • Put that back!
  • Don’t do that again!
  • Come here!
  • Do it this way next time…
  • It’s better this way…
  • My idea is better…

You tell people what you want and you expect them to buy into your way and your ideas without question.

You expect their behaviour to change. Even if you are successful at changing behaviour, it rarely sticks. That’s why you end up repeating yourself over and over again. It’s so frustrating, isn’t it?

Be honest with yourself. Is it their fault, or is it your fault?

Is it possible that you could communicate in a different way so that you could get the desired outcome but in a better and more effective way?

What if you were able to change people’s behaviour without telling them what to do?

What if you could communicate in a way so people could figure out the answer for themselves?

I’d like to give you a flavour of what that looks like.

Before I continue, what we’re really talking about here is being self-aware about how we communicate and taking the responsibility to work towards becoming a world-class communicator.

Your ability to craft and use great questions is at the core of this.


So, how do we shift from ’telling’ to using questions to change behaviour?

For me, this goes back to a lesson I learned in my early 20s. I was involved in a lot of leadership training, and my teacher at the time coached me to ask more questions in my training sessions. That was part 1, and it stuck with me. However, it wasn’t until over 10 years later when I developed this skill further through Marcus Sheridan’s teaching and leadership.

What I am about to share with you is what I have learned from Marcus, and what I have been practising across all aspects of my life, and what I now teach to others.

This is possibly the most significant skill I have developed in my life so far. The more I use it, the stronger it becomes, and the results are greater and more dramatic each time.

So let’s get into it.

What do you need to do to make the shift to embracing questions as your default starting point for teaching, coaching, discovery and learning?

1/ Let them discover the answer for themselves

We call this ’The Columbus Principle’ – which means that it’s our job as elite communicators to help others discover the answer for themselves.

This is the major difference between telling people what to do, and helping them to learn it for themselves. We know that if they say it, they will own it.

It doesn’t matter if you know the answer or not. If you want to help people to not only learn, but to change their behaviour and have it stick, we have to help them to learn for themselves. We have to stop giving the answer away.

We do this by asking the right questions. We use these questions to help them uncover the answer for themselves.

Back to Paddy: What questions do I need to ask Paddy to help him understand the importance of bathroom hygiene?

Your challenge: Is it possible for you to help someone get to the answer by ONLY asking them questions. Next time someone asks you a question, don’t give up the answer, use questions to help them get there for themselves. 

2/ Don’t be satisfied with the first answer

This builds directly upon The Columbus Principle, and we call this ’The Law of Three’.

Rarely is the whole truth found by asking one question. To uncover the truth we have to dig a little deeper. Generally speaking, it’s not until we go beyond the third question we start to get to the answers that matter the most.

When you get the first answer to your question, don’t be satisfied – be curious, ask another question, and another to get to the real truth.

The people you are communicating with might not even know the answer, but the right questions from you will help to bring it out.

Back to Paddy: I know that to get to the real answer and to the truth, I will have to lead him down the path using more questions and The Law of Three.

Your challenge: Every day you will spot examples to use The Law of Three, and now that you know about it, give it a shot. Ask at least three questions and see how this improves the conversations you have at home and at work.

3/ Be patient and don’t give in

When you first change how you communicate, it’s easy to fall back into your older habits of just telling people what to do and giving them the answer. On the surface, it seems like the easy option.

The Columbus Principle and The Law of Three require patience and steadfastness.

So, when you adopt these new techniques and mindset you have to be more patient. You can’t give up. Stay with it. You have to believe that if you help someone to get to the answer themselves, the benefit will be far greater for everyone involved.

Give people the time and space to get there. Make them work for it.

You will learn a lot in the process too.

Back to Paddy: It would be easy for me to give up and just shout at him and tell him what to do. Not only do I not want to have to do this, but I also know how important it is for him to learn it for himself.

Your challenge: When someone asks you a question, resist giving them the answer right away. Push yourself to craft better questions.


There are situations like this at home and at work that will provide the perfect opportunity for you to use the principles I’ve shared with you here and put them to work.

Fortunately, Paddy loves getting in front of the camera, so he was happy for me to record the whole conversation. You can watch it here.

See if you can spot the use of The Columbus Principle, The Law of Three and how I push Paddy to get to the answer himself.

What’s important to point out here is that he is creating his own rules. They aren’t my rules, and we now have an agreement for what good bathroom hygiene looks like.

So, next time we need to have a chat about it, we will refer to what he agreed with me. There doesn’t need to be anymore nagging, shouting or yelling (hopefully!)


If you embrace what I’ve shared with you today there will be a dramatic change across your whole life, I have no doubt about that.

Keep in mind that this isn’t just for work OR business. If you want to become a world-class communicator, you will embrace these techniques as “this is how I communicate”. It becomes your philosophy. It becomes who you are.

Look for opportunities at home and at work to practice these techniques and this mindset. There’s a training ground in all situations…

  • One to one conversations
  • With your children
  • With your partner
  • In meetings
  • In presentations
  • In groups

Very quickly you will shift from ’telling’ people what to do, to using great questions to help them to get there themselves. The process might take a little longer, and you will have to have a lot more patience, but the results will be immediately noticeable.

The first step towards becoming a world-class communicator is to change your mindset and philosophy. You have to give up:

  • Trying to convince other people that you are right
  • Thinking you are better than other people
  • Trying to look smart or more clever than other people

In other words, we must be more humble with what we know and what we don’t.

Just like everything you do to improve yourself, it’s never done. The world-class communication techniques and mindset is something I work on each day, it truly is the gift that keeps on giving. I have Marcus Sheridan to thank for all of this. He gifted this to me, and I’ve seen first hand how many lives have been changed dramatically by this philosophy.

And now it’s my gift to you…