Asking Better Questions

Asking Better Questions And Why It Matters

Can we agree that most people are terrible at asking questions? I understand why. Promotions come because we’re quick to solve problems and arrive at answers, not for our skill at staying curious.

However, what got us where we are isn’t what will get us to where we want to go next. As a leader, we must harness the collective intelligence of our team, and that happens by asking better questions. However, every facilitator or coach will tell you that there’s an art to it.

At times, we give our people space as they find their own way. At others, we poke to instigate movement.

So today let me offer up nine tips for asking better questions.

  1. Think you’re good at? Let’s find out. In the next team meeting, keep track of how many questions you ask and how many statements you make. After the meeting, do the math. Did you ask more questions than statements? The best leaders are having conversations with ~60% questions.
  2. Stay curious and check in with yourself. When you sense you’re becoming judgmental or prescriptive, your questions will no longer be sincere or useful.
  3. If you have one true answer, give it. Don’t ask a question and make your team guess. No one enjoys a condescending game of trivial pursuit. More on that here.
  4. Questions that start with “what” are usually best. They surface assumptions and shift perspectives. For example, if you are worried what happens if the team does x, don’t say, “be sure to solve for..” Instead ask, “What do you intend to do when…” It’s subtle but effective.
  5. “How” questions are usually about solving a problem. They can get great, if you need to get into the weeds.
  6. “Why” questions are typically about justification. Be careful. Depending on when and how they’re asked, some people may get defensive.
  7. Yes/no questions are good, but if you chain too many together, it can feel more like an interrogation than a conversation.
  8. Be willing to ask the dumb question no one else will. If you’re confused by something, know that others in the room likely are too. One great way to begin such a question is, “How should I think about….?”
  9. Take an introductory coaching course. This one is a favorite. You’ll find many coaches are masters at asking questions so borrow from what you observe.

Want another benefit of asking questions? Paying attention is a prerequisite to asking and answering questions. In other words, we can’t tune out, and neither can our people.

Recognize though that there is still a time to make a decision and to hold firm on an opinion. As such, questions aren’t always the right approach. Still, I’d argue they’re the best tool we have as a leader to harness the abilities of our team.

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