5 Keys to asking better questions

Asking a lot of questions (lots but not too many) unlocks learning and improves interpersonal bonding.

  • TYPE 👉 People interacting with a partner who asks lots of follow-up questions (solicit more information) tend to feel respected and heard because it signals that you care & are listening. This type of question comes naturally to us anyways & so don't need much effort on our part.
  • FRAMING 👉 Open-ended questions are useful in uncovering information or learning something new. It doesn't force answerers into a yes-or-no corner making people feel interrogated. Closed questions work best when you don't want to leave the other person much wiggle room; eg. tense negotiations.
  • SEQUENCE 👉 During tense conversations asking tough questions (not too sensitive) first can make people more willing to open up. For building relationships, open with less sensitive questions and escalate slowly.
  • TONE 👉 People open up more easily when asked questions in a casual way. They also tend to be more forthcoming when given an escape hatch or “out” in a conversation. That's why teams and groups find brainstorming sessions so productive.
  • PRACTICE 👉 Like everything else, we become better questioners through practice - asking, learning, tweaking.

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How to Ask Great Questions

hbr.org

The best way to answer

The way we answer can encourage trust and information sharing.

It's about choosing the right balance between privacy & transparency - decide 'before' a conversation what information is to be shared & what kept private.

  • What to share 👉 Think carefully whether refusing to answer tough questions would do more harm than good. Transparency can sometimes be a very powerful bonding agent.
  • What to keep private 👉 Negotiation sometimes requires handling hard questions without lying. In such cases, answering a question you wish had been asked, can be effective. 

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Emotional intelligence and asking questions

Asking questions improves our emotional intelligence (EI) and with improved EI we become better questioners - it's a virtuous cycle.

“Ask questions the other person will enjoy answering.” - Dale Carnegie

Research over the past 50 years suggests people have conversations to accomplish some combination of two major goals: 

  • information exchange (learning) and 
  • impression management (liking).

Recent research shows asking questions achieves both.

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Why questioning is a powerful tool to unlock value in organizations
  • Encourages exchange of ideas and boosts learning.
  • Feeds innovation and creative thinking.
  • Builds rapport & trust within the team.
  • Reduces business risk by uncovering unforeseen pitfalls and hazards.

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