Volume 117, August 2012: Communication: Asking Effective Questions

Keyzine: An E-zine for Leaders about the People Side of Business

This is a monthly electronic magazine for anyone who wants to be a better leader, coach, facilitator, or simply, to tune up their people skills. It is a complimentary publication, devoted to the next evolution of Quality Thinking.

Publisher: © Key Associates, LLC, 2012 ISSN # 1545-8873

“My greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask a few questions.” — Peter Drucker

There are many types of questions when it comes to asking. Types of questions include:

  • OPEN: Conveys trust, used to clarify, doesn’t provide implicit answers. Are used to gather more information, e.g., “What’s going on? How can I help?”
  • CLOSED: Obtains specific information, frequently phrased as this or that, e.g., “Would you like to pay in one lump sum or monthly?”
  • ACCUSATORY: Communicates negative emotion in an inappropriate, indirect way, e.g., “So you think you’ll improve your health if you continue to eat like that?”
  • TESTING: Implies a right and wrong answer and feels like cross-examination, e.g., “You really think that’s the right way to do that?”
  • LEADING: Manipulates respondent toward the speaker’s own position, e.g., “Don’t you think you need to lie down?”
  • LOADED: Contains an embedded premise, e.g., “Were you drinking again last night?”

Oakley & Krug (in Enlightened Leadership: Getting to the Heart of Change, 1994) acquainted me with the art of Effective Questions. Some examples for leaders to use include:

  • What is happening now?
  • What future do you see?
  • What have you tried before and with what results?
  • What is working well?
  • What led you to that conclusion?
  • What do we need to solve this problem?
  • What criteria will we use to make this decision?
  • How might I assist you? How could I be most helpful to the team?

Ineffective Questions sound like:

  • Who did that?
  • Why did you do that?
  • What’s the (your) problem?
  • Why can’t you keep up?
  • Don’t you know better than that?
  • When will you learn?

Practice Point

Examine the way you ask questions. How can you reformulate them to: a) avoid embarrassment; b) receive a concise answer; and c) stimulate thinking. Practice using more What and How questions.


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