Perhaps above all other attributes, being skilled in the art of asking good questions makes better our ability to learn efficiently and deeply.
Our ability to craft proficient questions also provides us with countless other benefits, such as helping to establish trust, improve decision-making, strengthen relationships, generate awareness, accelerate problem-solving and so on and so forth.
“Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.”
So that we’re able to ask better questions, we first need to understand the five different types of questions there are to ask…
These are questions that can be answered by a simple “yes” or “no”. Although useful for helping people to focus, they don’t encourage them to expand on their answers.
Used too much and the conversation can resemble more of an interrogation.
Person A: “Do you want to play?”
Person B: “No.”
Person A: “Is it because you were substituted last game?”
Person B: “No.”
Person A: “Are you sure?”
Person B: “Yes.”
These are questions where we provide several options to the other person.
They have the potential for confusing people, as the person answering may not know which question to deal with first.
Person A: “Did you speak to Jane, how did she react, were you surprised?”
Person B: “Ummmm…”
These are questions that are focused more on our needs rather than the person we’re asking. Put another way, they lead people to give the answer that we want them to give.
Consequently, they don’t promote independent thinking in the replier. Imagine a witness being cross examined in the court room…
Person A: “You get paid very little, don’t you?”
Person B: “Yes I do.”
Person A: “It’s also true that you work many hours, isn’t it?”
Person B: “It is, yes.”
Person A: “And I’m right to say that this has made you resentful towards your boss, aren’t I?”
Person B: “You are, I hate him!”
These are questions that are useful for encouraging people to exercise their imagination.
They help the person we’re asking to explore possibilities that extend beyond their current situation or mindset.
Person A: “What do you think he would say if you told him the reason?”
Person B: “Perhaps he’d realise that I made my decision for the long-term benefit of us all.”
Person A: “And what if he rejected this reason?”
Person B: “Yes, there’s every chance. I need to ask Laura to collate his stats for the past couple of seasons.”
These are questions which stimulate thought and reflection in the other person, helping them to consider their options.
They also empower the replier to take ownership of the conversation, making this the most important type of question to use when coaching people and helping them to learn.
Person A: “What steps have you taken to improve your game?”
Person B: “I realised last season that I wasn’t strong enough, so I’ve been working more with the fitness coach.”
Person A: “How has this benefited you so far?”
Person B: “Because I’ve strengthened my core, my position on release is now much more stable. However, I still need to develop more leg strength.”
Person A: “Why do you think this?”
Person B: “Well, my back leg is still collapsing when I land, so this will help me to maintain a more robust posture on impact.”
Open questions start with either “What”, “Where”, “When”, “How”, or “Why”.
“Why” questions can sometimes be interpreted as being aggressive or invasive by the person we’re speaking with, so it’s important that we choose an intonation that implies curiosity.
However, when we do pitch “Why” questions in the right tone, and as long as we don’t overuse them, they often help us to unveil a wealth of information.
Person A: “Why do you think that you’ve played so well today?”
Person B: “I think it’s a combination of reasons. Firstly…”
Mix and match
As with many things, balance is the key when it comes to asking good questions, so it’s important that we don’t just stick to one type of questioning. Skilful questioners use a blend of methods to stimulate thoughtful debate.
And when skilful questioning is used in conjunction with highly developed listening capabilities, then truly productive and efficacious communication occurs.
“I never learn anything talking. I only learn things when I’m asking questions.”
– Lou Holtz
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