Skills in Questioning (How to Question Others)

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    Skills in questioning are very useful in many applications, including interviewing, coaching, designing questionnaires, and interpersonal relations. They also are useful in asking oneself and others various questions to help them reflect on their experiences and to learn.

    Traits of Destructive and Traits of Useful Questions

    © Copyright Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD

    Traits of Destructive Questions

    Before suggesting guidelines to conduct supportive questioning, it is important for you to know what types of questions to avoid. Consider these guidelines:

    1. Avoid asking questions that can be answered simply with “yes” or “no.” You and your employee gain little understanding or direction from such pointed questions that have such short answers. Instead, consider questions that start with “What,” “How,” “When” and “Where.”
    2. Avoid leading questions. Leading questions are questions that are asked to lead another to a certain pre-determined conclusion or insight. Those questions can be perceived by others as manipulative and dishonest. Leading questions often can be answered with “yes” or “no,” for example, “You did what I suggested, right?”
    3. Avoid frequently asking questions that begin with “Why.”

    Those types of questions can leave others feeling defensive as if they are to be accountable to you to justify their actions. That feeling of defensiveness can damage feelings of trust and openness between you and your employees.

    Traits of Useful Questions

    Consider these guidelines:

    1. Where possible, use open-ended questions. Open-ended questions are those that are not answered with “yes” or “no.” They generate thinking and reflection on the part of the person you are coaching. They also ensure that the person keeps focused in the coaching session.
    2. Focus questions on the here and now. The goal of coaching is to help the person to go forward by changing how he/she looks at the problem, identifying realistic actions to take, and learning from those actions.
    3. Ask questions to clarify what the other is saying. Clarifying questions help you and the person you are coaching to understand the key point or “bottom line” of what he/she is saying. They often lead to discovering the root cause of issues.
    4. Ask questions about the person’s perspectives, assumptions, and actions. Adults can learn a great deal by closely examining their own thinking. Often, they struggle because of inaccurate perceptions or assumptions. Therefore, ask questions about their thinking, assumptions, and beliefs about current priorities. Do not ask lots of questions about other people – you cannot coach people who are not with you.
    5. Ask the other person for help. It can be powerful when you show enough trust and confidence in the relationship with your employee that you can ask him/her for help with helping them. For example, you might ask, “What question should I ask you?” or “What additional questions should I be asking now?”

    How Powerful Are Your Questions?

    © Copyright Pam Solberg-Tapper

    A fundamental skill in the coach’s toolbox is the ability to ask powerful questions. Powerful questions evoke clarity, and introspection, lend to enhanced creativity, and help provide solutions. Questions are powerful when they have an impact on the client which causes them to think.

    These provocative queries spark “epiphanies” or “ah-ha” moments within the client which can radically shift their course of action or point of view.

    Learning to ask powerful questions will help you augment your personal and business communication. The most effective powerful questions begin with “What” or “How”, and are short and to the point. When questioning, be genuinely curious about the person you are speaking to.

    Here are some powerful questions that can help you be more effective in many situations.

    1. What do you want?
    2. What will that give you?
    3. What is important about that?
    4. What is holding you back?
    5. What if you do nothing?
    6. What is this costing you?
    7. How much control do you have in this situation?
    8. What do you need to say “no” to?
    9. How can you make this easy?
    10. What options do you have?
    11. What will you do? By when?
    12. What support do you need to assure success?
    13. How will you know you have been successful?
    14. What are you learning from this?

    Traits of Strategic Questions

    A strategic question (from “Strategic Questioning” by Peavey, in In Context, No. 40):
    1. Creates motion — Gears to “How can we move?”
    2. Creates options — Instead of “Why don’t you ..?”, asks “Where would you …?”
    3. Digs deeper — “What needs to be changed?” “What is the meaning of this?”
    4. Avoids “why.
    5. Avoids “yes” and “no” questions — These leave the presenter in a passive or uncreative state.
    6. Empowers — “What would you like to do?”
    7. Asks the unaskable questions.

    Some Examples of Powerful Questions to Ask

    1. How important is this?
    2. Where do you feel stuck?
    3. What is the intent of what you’re saying?
    4. What can we do for you?
    5. What do you think the problem is?
    6. What’s your role in this issue?
    7. What have you tried so far? What worked? What didn’t?
    8. Have you experienced anything like this before? (If so, what did you do?)
    9. What can you do for yourself?
    10. What do you hope for?
    11. What’s preventing you from …”
    12. What would you be willing to give up for that?
    13. If you could change one thing, what would it be?
    14. Imagine a point in the future where your issue is resolved. How did you get there?
    15. What would you like us to ask?
    16. What have you learned?

    Types of Questions

    Some Questions Used — and Avoided — By Coaches

    Personal and professional coaches are experts at asking good questions.

    Additional Perspectives on Skills in Questioning

    For the Category of Interpersonal Skills:

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