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26 May The Skill of Asking Questions

There are numerous benefits to being skilled at asking questions. Knowing what to ask can get conversations started with ease. Asking the right questions gets people to open up. By gathering the maximum amount of information, we can better assess what is going on, especially if there is a problem. Questioning can guide what directions the conversation takes. It can help bring out missing information, insure that important points are brought into the conversation, and can lead to conflict resolution.

Some types of questions are better than others. For example, closed questions result in one word answers. Here are some examples: Do you like your job? Do you like the people you work with? Are there good benefits? How long have you worked here? Asking too many closed questions can result in the person feeling as though she is being grilled or bombarded and you getting limited information.

Open questions solicit much larger amounts of information. It gets the person talking; gets them to open up, relax and feel like you care. Notice the difference: What are some of the things you really like about your job? What are the advantages of working here over working at another organization? What do you see yourself doing 5 years from now? How is your current supervisor different from ones that you have had in the past?

Why questions can be problematic. Asking “why” tends to put people on the defense. Here are some examples: Why were you late this morning? Why didn’t you get the assignment done on time? Why did you order those supplies instead of what we usually get? The result is excuses, arguments, made up reasons. They may even say, “I don’t know” or blame someone else. And this only takes us backwards as far as progress to resolve whatever the issue at hand. What’s done is done and dwelling on why it happened does not move us forward to what needs to be done.

Learn to replace “why” with “what.” “What” is an open question that facilitates information gathering. Notice the difference: What happened? What is the consequence when that happens? What can you do to prevent this from happening in the future? What do you need from me to help you get organized? What are the benefits of these supplies over the ones we usually get?”

Avoid asking questions that start with “Have you tried.” First of all, “have you tried” is a closed question. Using “have you tried” questions is demeaning to the receiver. Of course they tried it but it didn’t work and that’s why they are here now. Or, no, they haven’t tried it because they don’t know how or are fearful of what the results might be. Replace “Have you tried” with “What have you tried?” It is so simple and it works. It is an open question that facilitates information gathering.

Copyright ©2009 Gloria Howell



Gloria Howell

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