The art of asking good questions

questionboxMost of us believe that to be effective in our work, we have to be able to provide answers to people’s problems, and that’s certainly true. But it’s equally true that, as you advance in your career, it’s important to know how to ask good questions.

Well-formed questions uncover flaws in thinking, problems in a process and dangers lurking around the next corner. They also help people and organizations see possibilities that might not have occurred to them.

Here are some thoughts to help you ask better questions:

  • Questions come in two basic types, open and closed. Ask open questions when you want to engage another person in conversation. Ask closed questions when you want to keep conversations short.
  • Open-ended questions come in three types – subjective, objective, and problem-solving questions.
    • Subjective questions solicit an opinion: “What do you think about?” “What makes her qualified to do this?” “How do you feel about …?”
    • Objective questions seek information: “What evidence do you have to back your claim?” “How have you been handling this situation?” “What do you need to turn this around?”
    • Problem-solving questions help stimulate action ideas: “What should we do next?” “How should we implement the program?” “What would you change about our department if you had the authority to do so?”
  • Closed questions also come in three types – identification, selection, and yes/no.
    • Identification questions: “What kind of car is this?” “Who made this happen?”
    • Selection questions (either/or): “Who is right, the teacher or the student?” “Which questions are better for promoting discussion, open-ended or closed?”
    • Yes/no questions: “Has the plane been cleared for takeoff?” “Has everyone completed the training module?”

When you ask the right type and style of question, you make it easier for people to give you the information you want. You can make your organization run more smoothly, and you can help stimulate new ideas that lead to innovation or increased productivity.

Here’s a question for you: How would your life improve if you were to become better at formulating and asking questions? Leave a reply and let me know.

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One Response to The art of asking good questions

  1. Ray Colon says:

    Hi Pete,

    If someone is accustomed to providing answers at work, that person is probably asking himself/herself the right questions — unless the answers are rote knowledge. Often, when working alone on a problem I’ll go through the question asking exercise. I will need to have gone through this process to answer the questions that will, at some point, be asked of me.

    On the occasions when I use a question at the end of a blog post, it is uusally subjective, so as to promote a dialogue. It doesn’t always work, but it provides readers with the widest possible latitude for interpreting what they have read and adding to the conversation. Objective questions are also good for this purpose, but those are slightly more focused on the specifics of the blog post

    I like the new look. I found it much easier to read.

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