The Art Of Asking Great Questions by Cindy Stradling CSL, CPC

One of the greatest skills anyone can develop is to learn how to ask questions. Too often, people use questions to only confirm what they already know, so their questions do not provide any additional insight, information, or ideas.

There are also people who see questions as a form of an investigation tool, attempting to just get at the facts without any opinions, beliefs, or understanding that are not of a factual nature. This only provides a small part of the picture and can leave people with deep and significant misunderstandings about the topic or issue being discussed.

Learning how to ask great questions takes time, effort, and focus. It is something that anyone can do, and it can be practiced at work, home, and in your social life. The better you get at asking questions, the more you can discover that helps you in communicating with others and in learning information at more than just a surface, factual level.

Strategies of Great Questioners

Incorporating the following strategies into your conversations, meetings, and interactions can help to develop better and more productive questioning techniques:

  • Start by listening – listen deeply, actively, and specifically to the information the speaker is communicating. Think about what they are saying, not how you are planning to provide a comeback or something you want to challenge in their message. Listening allows you to hear where the speaker feels passion, wants to make a change, or thinks things are going well. This information allows you to frame the question to connect with the speaker’s message and encourage him or her to say more.
  • Ask open-ended questions – unless you require very specific feedback about an issue, avoid closed-ended or yes and no types of questions. Instead, use questions like:
    • Can you tell me more about ……
    • What would you do differently ……
    • How could we improve on this ……
    • What are your thoughts on ……
  • Ask follow-up questions – follow up questions naturally evolve from listening and using open-ended questions. They are designed to allow the exchange of more information based on the topic or subject at hand. For example, after someone explains something or provides their opinion, asking a question like:
    • What else can you tell me about …..
    • Where can I find out more information about …..
    • How can we use this information in…..
  • Avoid leading questions – leading questions are those questions that direct or prompt the other person to answer in a specific way. Leading questions are like fact finding or confirmation questions, and they rarely contribute to the conversation and often end up shutting down the speaker. Examples of these types of questions are:
    • I am sure you meant to say ….. isn’t that right?
    • Do you think your supervisor is up to the task?
    • Did you hear Mary and Joanne having an argument?

The key to the best questions is in being curious about what is being communicated. Following naturally with questions designed to learn more makes the other people in the conversation feel valued, heard, and recognized for their contributions.