Two Rules that Make You Look Smart When You Ask Questions
You’ve heard reporters ask, “Don’t you agree,” during interviews. That’s an idiotic question for a reporter to ask.
You talk too much when you ask questions that have assumed answers. Leading questions search for affirmation, not information.
Poorly worded questions are an offense to humanity because they disrespect the recipient.
Ill-worded questions are a colossal waste of words. Better to keep your mouth shut than to ask a stupid question.
- Seek honest answers.
- Turn the light on.
- Open a door.
- Provide space for exploration.
- Build platforms of interaction.
- Respect the recipient.
- Don’t have an assumed response.
- Occasionally surprise.
- Bring up issues that haven’t been considered.
- Energize, challenge, and respect.
A great question doesn’t simply inform – it enlightens.
Rule #1: don’t begin questions with verbs.
It takes confidence to be curious.
The following question starters make a mockery of curiosity.
- Wouldn’t you…?
- Couldn’t you…?
- Shouldn’t we…?
- Don’t you think…?
- Isn’t it a good idea to…?
Questions that begin with verbs search for agreement.
Leading questions are a tedious waste of words.
Note: simple issues can be addressed with verbs. “Would you like to have lunch?” Either/or questions can begin with verbs. “Do you like red or black?”
Poorly worded questions are an offense because smart questions are incredibly easy to create.
Rule #2: smart questions begin with what or how.
Creating great questions isn’t rocket science. “Couldn’t you,” expresses respect when it begins with “what.” “What’s the next step?”
“Don’t you think” is easily elevated to, “What do you think?”
- What do you want?
- How can I help?
- What makes this matter to you?
- What opportunities are available?
- How did you arrive at that idea?
Today’s challenge: Only ask questions that begin with WHAT or HOW.
What’s challenging about asking questions?
- The Book of Beautiful Questions (Warren Berger)
- Asking Powerful Questions (ri.gov)
- 25 Powerful Coaching Questions to Get You Where You Want to Go (Jesse Lyn Stoner)
- The Surprising Power of Questions (HBR)
- The Science of Asking Great Questions (AMA)
- Now That’s a Great Question (Bob Tiede) Free download
“WTF?” + “How’s that?” = “Is that so?”
The best response to any B.S. question or statement. 😉
Thanks Rurbane. 😉 … I think we should answer stupid questions with stupid answers.
Don’t you agree? Deserve, I think it’s going to rain tomorrow, or some other silly response.
Ask one question at a time. I have seen some executives ask three questions at once.
Also, when you ask a question–don’t be like a prosecuting attorney putting the person on the defensive.
Thanks Paul. You nailed a big one. I’ll catch myself asking several questions. At that point I stop and say, OK let me ask just one question.
Three questions at once is an interrogation.
I work in an environment where “questions” are necessary. We ask questions A LOT! What I find more important than “how we ask questions” is the environment we create “to ask questions”. Learning how to ask good questions takes both time and practice. Creating psychological safety is of utmost importance if you want your team/organization to grow in this capacity.
Thanks Frank. YES! We stop asking questions when it feels dangerous to ask questions. You got me thinking about learning to be a good listener. If you want people to ask questions be a listener. If you want people to respond to your questions, be a listener. If you want to learn something, be a listener. If you want to be rude and ignorant, interrupt people. 🙂
Listening seems to be one aspect of creating psychological safety.
I’m a naturally curious person and never stopped to think how the questions I ask might be perceived by others. Thanks for this thought provoking post!
Thanks Jenny. Personally, my curiosity sometimes makes others uncomfortable. They wonder what I’m after. But all I am is curious.
You’ve presented a simple way to make questions more meaningful by using “What” or “How” to begin a question. I can become a cross-examiner quickly out of habit. And people don’t want to be around that for long.
Thanks Hamilton. Asking good questions might be simple, but it’s not always easy. I’m a machine gun questioner… I just need to chill out.
Just breathe …. 🙂
Sometimes all a leader needs to do is to ask ‘What questions should we be asking?”
This topic got my attention as talented sales executives practice crafting questions that follow the same rules. By focusing on my customer (note: “customer” can be colleague, team member, spouse, client, etc.) and using correct question composition, everyone feels better about the interaction and their own contribution without being manipulated.