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How to Ask Better Questions

Posted by Louellen Essex on January 23, 2014 in Communication

By asking questions you potentially learn more about the people with whom you interact. You have the opportunity to change your own perspective when you allow others to influence your point of view. Asking questions demonstrates your interest in others. Sometimes you might test what another knows by queries that help you make an assessment. When a staff member has a problem to solve, the questions you pose can help to find a solution. Here’s how you can fine-tune your ability to question and capture the benefits.

Become more inquisitive.
As leaders progress in their careers, they often find themselves talking more and listening less. Before entering into a conversation, pause to consider, not only what you want to say, but also what you might gain by assuming a curious outlook. With an open mind, show interest in the other’s perspective.

Make questions open, not closed.
Closed questions can be answered by a simple yes or no. They don’t do much to stimulate the responsiveness of the other person. Open questions require a reply with more words. They invite more dialogue. For example, if you say Do you think this is a good idea? the respondent can reply with a yes or no, offering little more information. If you ask What do you perceive to be the challenges in implementing this idea? Where might be the opportunities? you increase the probability of a having a rich dialogue.

Ask exploratory questions to uncover possibilities.
Sometimes individuals or groups seem stuck. Stimulate expansive thought by asking What if we could remove this barrier? What would it take to make this work? Are there other options? What would a good solution look like? What more could we do?

Start with what more often than why.
A series of why questions can feel like an interrogation that creates defensiveness. Begin your sentence with what to soften the tone. For example, Why didn’t you meet the deadline? sounds more pointed than What got in the way of you meeting the deadline?

Reverse the perspective.
Add intrigue to your conversation, by asking the other person to look at things from another angle. If you were in my shoes, what would you do? If you were in the customer’s place, what do you think she would be thinking right now? If you were Bob (team mate), what do you think he would say are the causes of the conflict between the two of you? The goal of this type of question is to help one party become more empathetic to another party’s situation.

Avoid leading questions.
Don’t put words in another person’s mouth. When the answer is imbedded in the question, the response won’t be pure. Leading questions ask You don’t think this is the best way to proceed, do you? What are the issues in your department: lack of teamwork, unresolved conflict, weak leadership?

Of course, how you react to the answers you receive significantly affects the effectiveness of your questioning. If you are quickly critical of the response, the dialogue will soon go flat. Stay open, focused on the other person, and eager to further explore the answers you receive. You will find that you learn more while advancing the thinking of those you lead.

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In these times of rapid change, leaders can never stop learning.”

Dr. Louellen Essex