By Steve Adubato, PhD

Steve Adubato, PhD: "The Right Questions Build Relationships"

People are obsessed with coming up with the right answers to difficult problems and challenges in the workplace. In school, students are taught to come up with the correct answers in order to get a good grade.

Clearly, answers are important, but so are questions. Too often we ignore the value of asking smart, probing, engaging questions. All kinds of leaders, including lawyers, teachers, doctors and yes, journalists, depend heavily on questions to do their jobs.

Yet, most of us ask questions in a haphazard fashion. We take questions for granted. How often have you incorporated questions into your presentations? Are questions a regular part of your meetings with team members? And, possibly the most important, what kinds of questions, if any, are you asking your sales prospects? Are they strategic? Are they thought out? Are they asked with purpose? With this in mind consider some keys to getting more out of the questions you ask and the people you are asking them of:

  • Make sure your questions are clear and easy to understand. Sounds simple, right? Then why is it that too often people will ask the question and you have no idea what they want to find out? Before you ask a question, make sure you know why you are asking it. (P.S.-Don’t ask a question just to be heard. It’s irritating.)
  • Direct your questions to a particular person. You are more likely to get a direct response. Questions asked of a particular person are more effective than simply asking a question of an entire group. Often, when questions are asked of an entire group, people are reluctant to be the first to speak up. Also, it makes it easier for audience members to hide and not participate.
  • One at a time. Don’t you hate those multi-part questions? How do you know which part you are supposed to answer first? Did you ever notice that you can’t remember what the first part was? Ask one question, on one subject, to one person and you’ll be pleased with the results.
  • Follow up on a previous question that has been answered. Something like, “Mary, how does your answer compare with what Jim said on this subject earlier in the meeting?” Another effective follow-up is a short encourager after someone has responded to an initial question like, “How so?” or “For example…”
  • Unless you have a good reason for doing it, questions shouldn’t be overly confrontational: “Why is it that you never seem to get it right, Bob?” If you are looking to scare the heck out of Bob or let him know he is about to be fired, you’ve succeeded. Questions like this can cause real communication problems.

As a leader, you will be amazed at the reaction you get using this simple but powerful communication technique that revolves, not around answers, but once again around asking the right questions in the right way for the right reasons. This technique will dramatically improve your meetings, the level of engagement of your people, and the decisions you make as a leader. What’s better than that?

Steve Adubato, PhD: "The Right Questions Build Relationships"