Steve Kaye, Ph.D.

Article Summary:

How to plan and ask questions to gather the info you need to succeed.

Asking Questions

Many people avoid asking questions. They believe that questions imply weakness, ignorance, or submission. As a result they don't ask for information that they need. This costs money and leads to mistakes.

Actually, asking questions is powerful. When you ask questions, you choose the topic and guide the conversation. Questions also help you obtain the things that you want. The key is to ask high value, positive questions that move people's thinking toward the ideas that serve your agenda. Here's how.

1) Plan Questions
Prepare for every situation by asking yourself, "What do I need to learn about this?" Then plan questions to gather that information.

For example, if you are going to a job interview, what information do you need to decide if this is the right job?

Possible questions include:

  • "Tell me about a success that occurred in your department."
  • "What support did you receive in working on that project?"
  • "What obstacles did you have to overcome?"
  • "How did your boss react to these events?"
    Strategy:
    Determine how the company conducts its business

Then ask:

  • "Tell me about an unsuccessful project and what contributed to it."
  • "How did your boss react to these events?"
    Strategy:
    Determine how people in the company deal with failures

When appropriate, write out a list of your questions. This helps you revise and refine the questions so that they serve your needs.

2) Think Questions
Most people respond to statements, situations, and questions by making direct replies. Unfortunately, responding before you have all the information can lead to problems. Instead, respond with questions. For example:

  • Statement: "Do you have a minute?"
  • Common response: "Sure."
  • Better response: "What do you need?" or "How can I help?"
    Strategy:
    Find out what the person wants before you volunteer
  • Statement: "You did a great job."
  • Common response: "Thanks"
  • Better response: "Thanks. What especially pleased you?"
    Strategy:
    Learn what you did right so you can do it again

  • Statement: "What idiot did this?"
  • Common response: "It wasn't me."
  • Better response: "What happened?" or "How can we fix it?"
    Strategy:
    Direct the conversation toward solutions

3) Use Questions
Savvy leaders ask questions to help other people make decisions. They do this by asking positive, guiding questions that help others discover solutions, find possibilities, and consider options. For example:

  • "What do you expect to be doing in three years?"
    Strategy:
    Encourage visionary thinking and goal setting
  • "Where else might this benefit your organization?"
    Strategy:
    Encourage considering other ways that a product or service could be used
  • "How do you help clients make decisions to buy our products?"
    Strategy:
    Encourage strategic planning that can lead to more effective selling

Notice that these are open ended questions that make the other person think. Often the answers lead to more questions. Your goal is to help the other person find answers and solutions by asking good questions.

Steve Kaye, author and IAF Certified Professional Facilitator, helps leaders hold effective meetings. His facilitation produces results that people will support, and his innovative workshops have informed people nationwide. Call 714-528-1300 or visit his web site for over 130 pages of valuable ideas. Sign up for a free newsletter at www.stevekaye.com.

Read all advice by Steve Kaye, Ph.D.; Find more Business Communication experts

More advice on Business Communication
» Instant Messaging Basics for Business
» Case Study Writing
» all Business Communication articles