From the Post: The art of asking the right question
Leaders don’t need all the answers
They need the right questions. Leaders will sometimes tell me that they wish they had all the answers. I know that might make things easier and make things more difficult because people may not like the answer we give them. However, they might like the questions we ask them if they are the right questions. Using the right questions can help your staff take ownership of the outcome.
Questions offer us the opportunity to open our minds, explore new thoughts and ideas, and gain a better understanding. There’s an art to asking the right question at the right time.
Someone once told me to think of it this way, is this the right question, is this the right time, and am I the right person to ask it? Not all situations are our playgrounds where we can throw out any question at any time without thinking about the ramifications. Sometimes, it’s better if we just hold our thoughts and listen.
In his book, QBQ, The Question Behind the Question, Author John G. Miller focuses on asking questions that lead to our personal accountability in all aspects of our life. Miller does a brilliant job of making us aware of the questions we use to duck and weave responsibility. These are the questions we ask that start with ‘why’ and ‘who’.
In her YouTube TED talk, Increase Your Self-awareness With One Simple Fix, Dr. Tasha Eurich also suggests limiting the use of ‘why’ questions and start using ‘what’ questions. Dr. Eurich suggests that if we work on using the ‘what’ questions we can avoid rabbit holes, deflections, avoidance, and redirection that why questions create.
First, let’s start with remembering a few things.
- Dr. Eurich tells us to limit using ‘why’ and use ‘what’ for questions.
- John Miller tells us to limit the use of ‘why’ and ‘who’ for questions.
- Practice using these three questions,
- What do I know?
- What don’t I know
- What did you hear me say?
4. Ask questions that engage curiosity.
Now, start asking the right question. This takes practice because it causes you to change your language approach which will take time to rewire your brain, habits, and behaviors.
In the post titled, Active Listening vs. Generative Listening – Listening Between The Lines I presented this list of questions. I repeated them here because I thought they might help.
The probing question
Conversations can get convoluted when there are many facts or ideas being presented. Using a probing question can help wade through the noise.
- What do you mean by__________?
- What other ways did you try?
- Can you identify what worked in the past in this situation?
- What specifically is happening?
- From your perspective, what are we not seeing?
The clarifying question
This question helps to cut through the noise as well. It helps you to understand what exactly is being said.
- What I’m hearing you say is _______________, is that right?
- What specifically is holding you back from______________?
- Can you tell me more about_________________?
- What does that look like to you?
- Is there another way to look at this?
- Tell me more.
The focus question
Sometimes the rabbit hole can go deep so you need to bring the conversation back to the original intent.
- What’s the desired outcome you are looking for?
- What exactly are you proposing?
- What else do we need to consider?
- What benefits would you like to see from____________?
The ‘what else’ question
A critical step in asking questions is to make sure you have covered or uncovered everything. How many times have you been in a conversation and you feel the real issue has not surfaced? This is where you use the bonus skill of silence. Ask the question, then wait… for them to answer.
- What else?
- What did we not cover in our conversation?
- What else do we need to address?
- What will you do with the information we talked about?
- What are your next steps?
- What do we need to do to move forward?
The health of a conversation will be determined by the questions asked.
Many of these questions are interchangeable and can be used in multiple situations. The point is, to ask questions, then listen with the intent to understand.