Asking questions is arguably an incredibly nuanced art form. It seems so simple, and yet there are so many different ways a question can be interpreted by the person answering or approached by the person asking.
Learn how to ask the right questions in this edition of Thrive in Five.
All questions must consider at least two things: the situation and the answer.
The Situation is the “who, when, where, why and how” surrounding the question. Are you meeting with a client the first time? Are you asking a colleague something about a project? Are you asking a supervisor for a raise or promotion? Are you looking for feedback? Who are you to the person you’re asking? Are you their supervisor, employee, consultant, client or a different role?
The Answer is the “what”. What information are you seeking? Are you just gathering context information or are you looking for a specific piece of information?
Once you’ve considered the situation and the answer, you can start to formulate the question.
The basics to formulating a good question are listed below. We share these with the caveat that sometimes certain situations call for breaking the rules. For example, as a lawyer, you might actually want to asking leading questions to paint a picture for a jury. However, in most management or consulting situations, the following rules apply:
- Ask open-ended questions. Even if you think you want a yes or no answer, there are very few times when a yes or no answer is sufficient. For example, if you ask someone, “Can you take the lead on this project?” he or she might feel obligated to say yes even if he or she feels overwhelmed. Instead, asking “How do you feel about taking a lead role in this project?” offers the person the opportunity to voice any concerns.
- Steer clear of leading questions. A leading question is one that encourages a desired response. You can also unknowingly suggest an answer by stating your opinion before asking for theirs. For example, if you want honest feedback about a meeting or presentation, you’re most likely to get helpful feedback if you ask “How do you think that went?” instead of “Do you think that went well?” or “That went well. What do you think?”
- Ask questions exclusive of judgement. There is no better way to diminish a conversation than to make someone feel judged, belittled, or dismissed. One way to do this is to ask a question with a clear judgement. For example, ask “How do you plan on ensuring the success of this project?” rather than “Do you really think that’s going to work?”
- Ask about the information you’re seeking. This may seem obvious, but very often, people ask questions that are one or two questions removed from the information being sought after. For example, if you want to know if someone can meet at a certain time, ask them, “How does a 10 am meeting on Thursday work for you?” rather than “What does your Thursday look like?” If you have to ask more than 3 questions to get the information you’re seeking, then reflect on your questions to make sure you’re actually asking about what you want to know.
- Ask about one thing at a time. It’s tempting to stack all the questions to all the information you need without giving someone time to answer each question individually. If possible, try to separate all the questions and allow for a response to each.
- Ask questions to learn more. Questions that dig deep for an understanding proves to the other person that you care. It also shows that you’re truly listening and absorbing the information they have to share, and they might feel more comfortable disclosing important facts, experiences, feedback, and more.
- Embrace silence. Sometimes the time in between the questions is just as important as the questions themselves. The urge to fill in silence is strong from both the person answering and the person asking. The person asking the question can often use this silence as a tool by allowing the person answering to fill the silence with a continuation of their answer. This often leads to the sharing of more sensitive or in-depth information that the person answering might have been hesitating to disclose.
Apply the Five!
We dare you to go an entire day without asking a “yes or no” question.
Not challenging enough? Then try building on top of our challenge with any of the other rules listed above. Gradually stack the rules as you get comfortable with each one, and you’ll be an expert at questions in no time!
Learn How Evans Thrives!
What better way to inspire you to thrive than to hear about real people making it happen? And what better way to learn about Evans than to make those real people Evans employees?
Meet Laura English!
Many times as consultants (or even as friends), we quickly launch into solution-finding on the behalf of the other person or organization. While that might make sense, because that’s what we’re “hired to do,” I think time and money is better spent in defining the problem, or from an appreciative lens, the opportunity.
To do this, I like asking questions that illicit the why of what we’re doing. A benefit of this approach is that people see possibilities that were not seen before, or they find different access points for making an even greater transformative impact. I see it as a generative approach for creating solutions. I find that showing up with this finding-the-why mindset helps to see the situation from the heart versus the head. Questions that I have found useful are:
- Why is solving this important to you?
- What will be different when this is solved?
- If you’ve achieved success, what would I see that is different than now?
- How is this similar to other problems you’ve solved in the past?
- This time next year, what will you be saying if the situation is improved?
I hope those questions give you a good head start for asking quality questions to gain quality information. Good luck on your question conquest!
Until Next Time…
The Evans Thrive Team
(Nicole, Kaitlin, Laura, Bob, and Sean)
(This image was adapted from a commonly shared internet image.)