The value of effective questions

Photo credit - Qimono via

Photo credit – Qimono via

Effective questioning can help to unlock ideas and create value for organisations. Some professions have specific training in this area – namely law, journalism and medicine. That doesn’t mean the rest of us cannot learn these skills. Read on to find out how.

The opportunity
Questioning can create outcomes that help to create value for businesses. How? They stimulate learning, the exchange of ideas, innovation and better performance. They can also help to mitigate risk by discovering unexpected pitfalls and dangers.

Being a good listener
Asking good questions is important but only if you are a good listener. Listening is critical to building good rapport with someone and benefitting from the questions asked. Critical to this is to ask people questions that they like answering. That could be answering questions about them, their interests and their expertise.

How to develop your questioning skills
The efficacy of questioning can be developed by using techniques. These include:

  • favouring follow-up questions
  • keeping questions open-ended
  • sequencing the questions appropriately
  • using tone effectively
  • framing questions to suit
  • paying attention to group dynamics

Follow-up questions
Follow-up questions have a special power. They indicate that you have been listening to the conversation and want to know more. It indicates interest, care and concern and respect. They do not require a lot of training – more an awareness of the other person’s responses and making an effort to understand these better. The naturally curious have no trouble in using this technique.

Open-ended questions
The beauty of open ended questions is that they feel natural. People don’t feel like they are being interrogated or that you are looking for a particular answer. In organisations, they can facilitate innovative thinking and help generate solutions.

Getting the sequence right
The sequence of questions is crafted to suit the circumstances. If you are building a relationship, you sequence your questions to start with non-sensitive questions but escalate their level of sensitivity, gradually. These questions build the level of shared knowledge and encourage the respondent to disclose more information.

If it is a tough line of questioning is required, the reverse order is used. More intrusive and demanding questions are asked, with successive questions being less demanding. The effect is that the later questions are less confronting, and the respondent is more inclined to disclose.

Choosing your tone
Adopting a casual and relaxed tone is conducive to respondents being more forthcoming. This is important when you are trying to elicit ideas such as facilitating a brainstorming session. A relaxed tone where people can change their responses, people are more likely to provide honest comments.

Be aware of group dynamics
Answering questions one-on-one is very different to in group situations. The willingness to answer questions in the presence of others changes. In group situations, members of the group may tend to follow the answers of one person. That could be agreeing with the responses or responding with the same level of openness as another.

Interacting and responding
Questioning requires interacting with others and dealing with their responses. You don’t always get to be the one posing the questions though. Sometimes you need to be the respondent. What are the best strategies for that? Look forward to another post about that next week. Until then, happy questioning.

Source: Brooks, Alison Wood, & John, Leslie K. 2018. The surprising power of questions in Harvard Business Review, May-June 2018 (pp. 60-67).

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  1. […] on from the previous post The value of effective questions, let’s now look at strategies for responding to questions. Questions and answers are like […]

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