Questions may make others feel uncomfortable even manipulated.
I felt disappointed when I was told, “Sometimes when you ask a question I think you already know the answer.” Ouch!
It’s true; I frequently have an answer in my head. But, I don’t have the answer. I’m interested in yours. I love asking questions.
Why be concerned about manipulative questions?
Some people ask general questions and then creatively apply responses. They might ask, “What do you think about the Tech Department?” You respond, “They’re improving their turn-around time.”
Your answer becomes, “The boss thinks you’re slow.” Backstabbers and manipulators make us weary. The issues, in this case, are integrity and trust, not questions. Additionally, it’s wise to answer general questions generally.
Questions are an exploration.
When coaching, for example, my answers don’t matter. Of course it isn’t always that simple. It’s normal for a coachee to ask, “What do you think?”
When exploring solutions or options I keep my answers to myself. , I avoid polluting your thinking by giving my answer, first. I can see where someone, after hearing the option I had in mind, might think, “Why didn’t you just say that in the first place?”
How can you ask questions without making others feel manipulated or uncomfortable?
- Begin by saying, “I’ve been considering options for the “xyz” project and wonder what you think.” This signals others that you’re exploring.
- Respect and explore answers. Say, “If we choose your suggestion, what are the next steps?”, for example.
- Withhold judgment. When I already have an answer, I tend to use it to evaluate yours. That closes my mind. Open minds go further than closed minds.
- Create a list of options together and explore each one. “Let’s create some options that move us forward.”
How can leaders ask question, most effectively?
What are some of your favorite questions?
Good questions, that is at the heart of all good analysis, therapy, coaching and leadership. Nice post. 🙂
Thanks for the good word… What did you mean by that? 😉
Why do you ask?
yes, I have seen some examples where questions feel like they are meant to trick…. or catch a person for not knowing something. It can really shut people down or make them too nervous to share what they really know
If we aren’t careful…questions can create dead ends.
The best questions happen in the moment. Each person is unique.
Just had a conversation with a young leader who is learning to treat individuals individually.
I love questions too – especially ones that foster creative thinking. And I agree, manipulative questions often shut people down altogether and engender distrust along the way.
Examples of some possibility depending of course on the context may be: ‘If you have unlimited resources what choices would you suggest?’ ‘If you had a magic wand to make the ideal outcomes real, what would those outcomes be?’ ‘What are 5 things that would have to be in place for that to happen?’ ‘What’s on your list of the optimum strategies that may work here?’
The “5 things” question is one of my favorites… I’m going to use it. Thanks
Great advise this morning. Leaving in a few hours for my very first exploratory meeting with a nursing facility as an long term care consultant. It’s like you wrote this one for me personnaly Dan! Thanks!
Wow! Best wishes.
This is a good time to intersect this good post with QBQ…The Question Behind the Question by John Miller.
I love John’s work… He teaches personal responsibility with wisdom and kindness. Thanks for bringing it up.
I guess how we frame our questions is relative to each of our personalities and the living environment that shaped us and the one we are most familiar with now which then can transcend from home to work and vice versa ….. the issue in how the nature of framing questions is interpreted is then subjective to the listener.
I have been a parent for 28 years and was also the oldest girl in the home so tended to care for younger siblings. Hence my personality would definitely almost always veer towards exploratory questions, even though I think I may know the answer 🙂 ….. I tend to be looking for a truth in a situation to gain an understanding of something which perplexes me so that I can evaluate and separate the person and the behavior and see if there is a way to move forward together or not.
The manner and facial expression in which the questions are delivered is critical to obtaining an initial insight into the dilemma.
Thanks for extending the conversation to include context… Plus, there is nothing in the post about body language but it’s so important. I need to smile more… for some reason, when I think it looks like I’m frowning… Maybe because thinking is hard work.
Thanks for the post. For me; the questions are more important than their answers as it helps clients incorporate feedback and new information into their thoughts and habits.
Right on David… telling may help people but when they think of it themselves, life changes. Thats why I like the coaching context. People know they are searching for their own answers, not mine.
“when coaching — the answers don’t matter —” I like that…s true.
Thanks and best to you
I appreciate your suggestions to explore more answers. While asking question, intentions should be to exploring options. I agree that “I wonder” or Could you explain are the key tips to explore more answers. I strongly agree that we should withhold our judgements. Being judgmental itself is immature approach and also the sign of manipulation.So, unless we have enough experience, we should avoid being judgmental.
I think, leaders can ask questions most effectively by showing sincerity.Looking sincere is the first thing that creates trust. I generally ask questions that are opinion based. For example what do you think the right form of pedagogy,or what do you think is the wrong with the generation Y etc. Some questions that are prevalent everywhere are the right questions to explore like why do people blame others. How can we make organization best place to work etc. What I mean to say that questions that really bothers people are the best questions to ask. And questions concerning individual belief may not be right question to connect and explore.
You gave me a great encouragement…. ask questions that really bother people people are the best questions… So true… the tough questions yield the best answers. Leaders courageously ask the tough stuff. Thanks
I think the relationship between the two parties also plays a role.
If your relationship has an understood set of “rules” that allows you to want to build on top of each other’s ideas people shouldn’t feel manipulated.
So, it might be just as important to have a good relationship as it is to use the correct language (verbal/ non-verbal) in the moment.
People bring history into conversations. So if there’s a good history that could help.
I’ll add that the statement I refer to… “You already have the answer..” came from a true friend. That’s one reason it troubled me and made me think.
But, I still agree with your comment, the unwritten rules of relationship can’t be ignored and can be used to aid communication.
This one is very important in building trust. Thank you for posting it. In my own little rule book – ‘first build trust’ is essential – it is the foundation for everything. If the question is asked with the answer already in mind the respondent will sense it at some point if they have any intuition at all and they will not give you their best – but worse, you do not stimulate them to dig deeply enough to give you a better answer than your own. Thus you kill two things – trust and a better idea. Its all about your ego. Let it go.
The moment people feel you are in it for yourself rather than for the best of the organization or their best transparent communication stops. It doesn’t matter what question you ask, you won’t get an open answer. Thanks for joining in.
To deal with resistance, one must not push, since that is only reciprocated by all but the most complacent people. Ask and engage, since Nobody Ever Washes a Rental Car.
The absolute reality is that their ideas will be better than your ideas, not because they are better, but that they are theirs.
Tom Peters was said to have said,
If we’re not getting more better faster
than they are getting more better faster,
we’re getting less better or more worse.
People, systems, ideas, implemented trial and error learning, continuous continuous improvement.
More, Better, Faster.
Love your observation about “their” ideas… Heck, my ideas are right because they are mine… I wouldn’t intentionally hold to a wrong or stupid idea. That would make me wrong or stupid… 🙂
Thanks Dan. Another good one. I think keeping an open mind is the best one and the hardest to do. You know, the Ego just Might get in the way at times. Ha. I like to practice the HOW method with leadership and life. It applies to questions as well.
Be Honest, Open minded and Willing.
I love reading your posts, Dan. Thanks again for all you do, continued success and healing.
All the best,
Thanks for the good word Al. It’s encouraging.
Ego in the way… YA think??? 🙂 The world would be a better place if everyone did what I say…
Thank for the HOW method.. I find I’m pretty good with H. and O. it’s the W. that troubles. me.
I remember studying leading questions during a statistics course in college about survey design, but I never really put much thought into how subtly the questions we ask on a daily basis can lead others by the nose. It’s like the old saw about how the boss will ask you, “Hey, Jones, I need you to set up that new database engine; I think maybe Oracle might be a good choice, but what do you think?” And of course, if you pick anything other than Oracle, you’re an idiot for going against the boss’s subtly phrased wishes. Here, his question wasn’t even really a question so much as a veiled instruction!
Thanks, Dan. Great food for thought.
I guess it’s also why the best coaches I’ve seen, and many of the best instructors I’ve seen, never give answers, and only answer questions with questions!
Looks like in some cases answering a question with a question is a good thing…
Thanks for a useful illustration of questions as veiled instructions.
my favourite question is not: what do you think we should do? without a context – I need context so I know what kind of feedback I am expected to give
open-ended questions are the worst
Your right…it’s easy to be off base when you answer a question out of context…
As a tributary to your stream of thought…one of your words created an environmentally visual metaphor with this post…”polluting”. In coaching, mentoring and/or leading, we are joining others in their stream, not our stream. We need to respect that and we definitely aren’t there to pollute it.
One of our jobs is enhance the flow, help others see the eddies, the undertows, so that s/he can move beyond what either of us might imagine possible. We may have to remove some deadwood and other detritus that slows or could stagnate the experience.
A follow up question to your thread might be, ‘if you are asking effective questions of others, who is asking effective questions of you? If not, why not?’
Thanks for catching the term “pollute” it makes me squirm but I think it’s useful…
Great question… sometimes people don’t ask me questions because I bowl them over with my enthusiasm or I don’t let them know that I’m exploring options… I’m too quick to make up my mind and I think when people think I’ve made up my mind they close down…
I’m not sure I like you asking probing questions… I prefer to being the question asker.
Great post, Dan! I know my logical brain runs at warp speed and my questions can often seem to be a “quiz” – that I’m testing whether the receiver “knows the right answer”!
I usually do NOT intend that, at all (when I do intend it, it rarely results in improved relationships!). Your post will keep this top of mind for me – and make me a better influencer.
Bingo… I do the same thing… I have to constantly remind myself to chill out…
Another challenge is talking and asking questions to people who don’t enjoy debate… I love debate and I think everyone else does too… doh!
I see…What do you think?
Why do you think so?
What could be the outcome?
Will it Address to the Goal you want to reach?
When you want to put that into actions?
V S KUMAR
Nice! Thanks for adding some great questions.
What can I do to help?
I love powerful, curious questions that help someone come up with great stuff that’s been in their awareness all along and they just didn’t know it.
Sometimes, I have an intuition or an insight that I think will be helpful in a situation. Once upon a time, I might have asked a long, tangled, leading question to get people to say what I had so brilliantly already intuited. One of my coaching certification supervisors caught me on this and told me how manipulative I was being.
I’ve learned that when I have an insight or intuition that may help the client that it’s better if I just blurt it, sometimes even transparently: “I realize I’m trying to formulate a question to try to lead you somewhere, and I don’t want to manipulate you, so I’m just going to tell you what I’m seeing.” Sometimes it lands, sometimes it doesn’t. It does, however, usually move the conversation somewhere helpful, whether it rings true or not.
One great piece of advice one supervisor gave me was to keep my questions to seven words or less. Other tips are to use sense words: “What does _____ look like for you?”; avoid “Yes/No” questions; and be very careful with “Why” questions, which get people into their heads and, often, into defensive explanations.
Wow! This was a wake-up call for me. I can think of a few times just in the past week that I’ve used the ‘manipulative’ type questions with coworkers. I definitely need to be more conscious of this. Thanks for the post, Dan!
yikes – I ask a lot of questions! Mostly to understand something, but have been told in the past by staff that it makes them feel like they have to jump and do something immediately, when all I’m doing is trying to get a big picture of something.
My problem is about how can a leader stop the people from the team to be manipulative and backstabbers. So, regarding what you said that an answer from a person can become a totaly different answer is someone else’s mind – this is my problem. The’ll come to me with their answers, I’ll see though this and try to make clear the situation. Because of being afraid or hiding something that person wont say exactly how he got the answer, the man that gave the initial answer will hesitate and so on. I guess my question is how to correct this tendency in people with whom you work.
For this I still have no solution.
I often wish there were a handbook in working with these kinds if leaders. They drain the life out of people. They make you second guess yourself. They undo the work you’ve fine and make you feel stupid in the process. I’ve been learning to not take ur personal and to still go a good job. It’s still wearisome. But I am on a good learning curve. Thanks fir this post.
There is also a cultural component to this, which I’ve only recently become aware of. One of my coworkers is Asian, and he regularly “asks questions” that are statements in disguise. As I am a straightforward person, I found it manipulative and just plain old crazy-making. (If you have something to say – say it!). It came up in the context of a facilitated discussion on how we work in our team. When questioned about this tendency – he quite rightly pointed out that this was a cultural tendency, and that there was no way he would just “say it” because that would be rude and disrespectful. Quite an eye-opener for me! Now that I understand the basis for this approach, I am much more able to ignore how it makes me feel (manipulated) and focus instead on the topic that requires discussion, regardless of how it is phrased.