We all do it. It doesn’t matter what our job is. We ask leading questions. And that means we are asking limiting questions – questions that assume a certain answer. Whether we are looking at a new benefit to add to our benefits program or developing a program to improve employee engagement, it’s critical that we ask questions in a smart way. It’s a method that will yield better answers. It’s good advice for all of us – whether we’re in a team meeting or a one-on-one discussion.

In a recent Inc. article, Jeff Haden outlines some of the ways we are currently asking questions, along with some tips to ask questions in a different way so that we get objective answers.

Here are some ways people ask questions the wrong way:

  1. They lead the witness. Asking a question that assumes a particular answer is easy to do when you already think you’re right and just want people to say you’re right. For example, “Don’t you think we should go ahead and release that order?could be rephrased to “What do you think we should do about that order?”
  2. They ask only either/or questions. Either/or questions assume some answer. Instead of sharing options, just state the problem. It might uncover options you haven’t thought of already. For example, “Should we just scrap everything and rework the whole job, or should we ship everything and hope the customer doesn’t notice?” Most people will pick one answer or the other. A better way: “There are defects throughout the whole order. What do you think we should do?” Someone’s answer might be “Let’s tell the customer up front there is a problem and ship everything. That reduces the impact on the customer. They can use what is good and won’t have to wait for the entire order to be rerun.”
  3. They don’t seek to genuinely understand. Asking questions can make you feel vulnerable when you’re in a leadership role. So just ask for clarification: “That sounds really good. Let me make sure I don’t miss anything, though. Can you walk me through it?”

Tips for asking great questions:

  1. Limit your questions to one sentence.
  2. Provide options in your questions only if those truly are the only options.
  3. Don’t shade or slant a question.
  4. Follow the same principles for follow-up questions.
  5. Talk as little as possible.

Read Haden's full article for more detail on asking smart questions.

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