Asking questions the skillful way

How to ask questions the right wayIt is natural human behavior to ask questions. Unfortunately it is also human behavior to ask unnecessary or stupid questions. 

As a manager who must always be conscious of time and productivity, the art of asking the right questions at the right time is crucial. There is nothing more wasteful than "loose" questioning of employees.

Asking the right question does not take a one day planning session. It is a skill that can be learned by knowing the process and thought behind the question. Questions are asked in different situations with expected outcomes varying from one person to another. 

During the process of critical thinking we were taught to lead with the following in mind:
  • What
  • Where
  • When
  • Who
  • How
  • Why

Analyzing the answers to those questions supposedly will give you sufficient information on which you can base your decision making. Remember most of the time questions are asked in order to collect information. 

That is why before jabbering away at an employee it is important what you will be using the answer for. There are certain cases where asking questions becomes unproductive such as:
  • When you already know the answer
  • When you don’t know the answer but think you know better anyway
  • When you are not going to hear the answer you would like to hear and disagree
  • When you are not intending using the answer for taking any form of action
  • When you are going to ask the wrong person

Employees very quickly recognize and adapt to a manager’s style of questioning and if they pick up that answers are not processed any further you will not get an honest or complete answer. The answer you get is the answer they know will make you happy.

Looking at the lead words above the weakest word to start a question with is “Why”. “Why” is more a scream of help and on its own serves no purpose. The only time “Why” should be used as a question is when you are questioning a method or process or where you are trying to extract negatives from the answer. This is a question to be left for innovative discussion and not everyday problem solving.

Unless you are doing a brainstorming session do your homework first and observe what you want to question. It will help you to structure your questions in a way to extract honest and useful answers.
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