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Ask Better Questions


“It’s not what you don’t know that will get you in trouble, but what you know for certain that just ain’t so.” — Will Rogers

Using Questions

 Asking questions is an under-utilized tool in training and developing employees. 

Too frequently, we, as management, have our employees come to us with a problem and our response is to solve their problem for them.

Alternatively, a more effective training tool would be to quiz the employee on the problem—why it’s a problem, what have they done so far, etc.  The idea is by asking the right questions we force the employee to discover the best solution on their own.

Empowering Questions

To be successful in training employees by asking questions, you cannot just ask any question.  They need to be questions designed to empower the employee.  Your questions need to let the employee know you respect their opinion and want their answers; they cannot be rhetorical or demeaning.

Also, ask questions that make the person think.  Your goal is to encourage the employee’s development as a thinker, so in the long term, they will ultimately be able to solve their own problems.

Benefits of Asking Questions

The most effective and empowering questions create value in one or more of the following ways:

  • Create clarity: “Can you explain more about this situation?”
  • Construct better working relations: Instead of “Did you make your sales goal?” ask, “How have sales been going?”
  • Help people think analytically and critically: “What are the consequences of going this route?”
  • Inspire people to reflect and see things in fresh, unpredictable ways: “Why did this work?”
  • Encourage breakthrough thinking: “Can that be done in any other way?”
  • Challenge assumptions: “What do you think you will lose if you start sharing responsibility for the implementation process?”
  • Create ownership of solutions: “Based on your experience, what do you suggest we do here?”

How to Incorporate Questions into your Management Style

  1. Decide what kind of information you want. When you ask a question, you have to know what you want for an answer.  Do you need a factually correct answer, an expert opinion, or a well-reasoned judgment?  When you are asking questions, make sure you put it in the right context.
  2. Don’t ask “Yes” or “No” questions. Ask open-ended questions. By using an open-ended question, you get insights and additional information you might not have known existed. Questions with “would,” “should,” “is,” “are,” and “do you think” all lead to yes or no. Questions with “who,” “what,” “where,” “when,” “how,” or “why” lead to people giving some thought to their answers and provide much more information.
  3. Dig Deeper. Always consider using follow-up questions to uncover the assumptions behind every answer.  Ask follow-up questions such as, “What makes you say that?” or “Why do you think that?”
  4. Use the Power of Silence. Get comfortable with asking a question, waiting for a response, listening to the response, and then waiting some more. Many times, the person you are questioning has more information that will surface if you wait for it.
  5. Don’t Interrupt. Interrupting tells the person you don’t value what they are saying. Interrupting also stops their train of thought and re-directs the conversation the way you want, which will probably not produce additional information.

The Bible

James 1:5-8 says.

 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.  But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.  That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.  Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

God doesn’t want someone to ask questions with a wavering heart. The purpose of God’s answer is to build a faith that is strong, single-minded, and founded on truth.

God answers those who really want an answer.

In asking questions, you are motivating your employees to think on their own.  But as managers, you need to be prepared to receive their answers.  You need always to listen and respond effectively.

Using questions to empower your employees is for their long-term development.  Knowing the right way to ask questions helps facilitate the employees seeing the truth in their actions and decisions.