How Questions are Statements and What to Do About It

Questions are statements for those who listen.

Questions, more than statements, explain who you are.

Lack of questions is most revealing of all. Those who don’t ask questions are either disinterested, afraid, arrogant, or ignorant.

Unused door

Questions from others affirm experience or wisdom. People trust you. But there’s a challenging side.

Questions reveal incompetence. “I wish they would act without asking questions,” for example, may be a statement about your lack of leadership.

The questions you hear expose leadership successes, opportunities, challenges, or deficiencies.

The dark side of questions:

Some questions are manipulations.

  1. They disagree but don’t want to speak up.
  2. They’ll blame you if things go wrong.
  3. They don’t want to act.
  4. They’re looking for a way out.
  5. They’re covering for incompetence.

Some questions are manipulations; all are explanations.

Questions explain how others view:

  1. Your responsibilities. They ask because they believe you’re responsible.
  2. Their authority.
  3. Power. Those with power ask fewer questions. Helpless people ask incessantly.
  4. Organizational structures.
  5. Institutional values.
  6. Project goals.
  7. Team interactions.

Every question says something.

Permission questions say:

  1. I don’t feel empowered.
  2. I want you to take responsibility.
  3. I feel insecure.

Direction questions say:

  1. I’m confused. Goals aren’t clear.
  2. Values require clarification. Explain values if you want others to choose direction.
  3. I don’t understand where I fit in.

Assurance questions say:

  1. Organizational structures hinder initiative.
  2. Confidence is low.
  3. Mistakes are often punished.
  4. Teammates aren’t qualified.

Tip: Assurance is a gift to qualified, motivated team members.

How-to questions say:

  1. I’m choosing a path and need insight.
  2. It’s time for training.
  3. I have a strong need to succeed.

Tip: Respond to how-to questions with “What do you suggest,” before giving suggestions.

Repeated questions say:

  1. Systems are lacking.
  2. Procedures need updating.
  3. Structure is unclear.
  4. You’re a control freak.

How do questions reveal the questioner?

How might leaders use the questions they hear as tools for leadership?

Resources for better questions:

Power Questions,” by Sobel and Panas

A More Beautiful Question,” by Berger