Inquiry is a powerful way for leaders to gain a deeper understanding of their businesses and their employees. By knowing how and why to ask the right questions, leaders can gain actionable insights that drive future growth, teamwork, and human capital.
Asking the right questions is essential in many professions—journalism and medicine are two good examples—where students and professionals learn how to ask good questions and hone their inquiry skills. Yet for many businesses, the power of questions is not a common component of leadership assessment and training.
That’s a lost opportunity. Not only does asking good questions matter, but understanding how you answer questions is an important part of one’s own leadership development.
What does asking good questions provide? It’s an opportunity to understand and improve business processes and procedures. It’s also a good way to get updates or understand progress on projects and initiatives.
Here are a few tips on how to think about questions in your workplace:
• Ask more questions. Many of us do not ask enough questions, according to a recent Harvard Business Review article. Sometimes the lack of questions stems from ego or hubris. In most cases, however, it’s that we are afraid to ask questions for fear of being pushy or leaving the impression that the wrong questions were asked. Asking more questions unlocks learning for all participants and can add to better social interactions.
• Follow up. Your initial question may give you all the information you need. However, it’s the follow-up questions where most of the gold can be mined. Follow-up questions indicate that the inquisitor is listening to the answers and is engaged in the conversation. They show that the information being provided is valuable and important.
• Open-ended questions are often, but not always, good ones. Open-ended questions (those without a yes or no answer) can often be used to gain more profound insights and lead to the hidden information that is critical for deeper understanding. They are not always the best choice, however. Closed questions are often good in negotiations or when you need a direct, singular answer.
• Sequencing matters. When you go into a conversation with a set of questions you intend to ask, the order in which you ask matters. Sometimes you need to ask the toughest questions first to get to the heart of the matter and leave subsequent questions to cover more tangential or less controversial issues. However, when looking to build relationships, the opposite approach is usually smartest. Start with easier, softer and less controversial questions and build towards more difficult ones.
• Use the right tone. No one wants to sound like a prosecuting district attorney, unless the interaction calls for such. Being mindful of your tone is important, especially in group settings where too casual or too forceful an approach can be inappropriate around others.
Applying these same approaches to the way you answer questions is important too. Understanding how your answers lead to different types of questions helps determine how you are perceived as a leader and colleague.
At Center for Victory, we help leaders and teams develop the skills they need to be productive and successful. Contact us to see how our assessment tools help identify the right traits and people for your organization.
From December 13, 2018