Tips for Asking ‘Good’ Questions

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Be curious. Leaders and managers who do all the talking are tone deaf to the needs of others. Unfortunately, some of these types of leaders feel that being the first and last person to speak is a sign of strength. In reality, though, it’s the exact opposite. Such an attitude cuts off information at its source, from the very people—staff, colleagues, customers—you should trust the most. Being curious is essential to asking good questions. Stay curious a little longer, and take advice giving and action taking a bit more slowly. Getting to a solution quickly is not always the best route to take—easy to say, hard to do, but with practice you can improve this skill.

Be open-ended. Leaders and managers should ask questions that get people to describe not simply what happened, but also what they were thinking. Open-ended questions prevent you from making judgments based on assumptions, and can elicit some unexpected answers that can lead to better results. Constructing questions that use whathow, and why encourages dialogue. Keeping the conversation open and flowing is critical to finding better solutions. It also makes you a better leader and manager.

Be engaged. When you ask questions, show that you care. Demonstrate that you are interested with positive facial expressions and engaged body language. This sets up further conversation and encourages the person to share information that could be important. For example, if you are interviewing a job candidate, you want to encourage him to talk about not only his accomplishments but also his setbacks and how he has dealt with them. An interested interviewer can often get someone to talk in depth about rebounding from failure. However, people will only open up if you actively show interest and listen attentively.

Dig deeper. So often leaders and managers make the mistake of assuming that everything is going okay if they are not hearing bad news. Big mistake. It may mean staff are afraid to share anything but good news, even if it means stonewalling. So when information surfaces in your conversations and meetings, dig for details without straying into blaming. Focusing on learning rather than judging when asking questions will help you see the entire picture. Remember, problems on your team are, first and foremost, your problems.

Asking good questions, and doing so in a spirit of honest information gathering and collaboration, is good practice for leaders and managers. It cultivates an environment where staff feel comfortable discussing issues that affect both their performance and that of the team. That, in turn, creates a foundation for deepening levels of trust, increasing morale and innovation, and enhancing productivity.

Written by Joan Cheverie, Educause Review

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