The Single Best Way to Respond to Questions

Hire people who ask questions. They’re smarter than people who don’t.

Some leaders don’t have time for questions. Others are afraid of questions. They think, “What if I don’t have the answer?”

Some team members worry that questions make them look stupid.

Smart people don’t know-it-all. They learn-it-all.

When asked to name a trait that would most help CEO’s succeed, Michael Dell responded, “I would place my bet on curiosity.” Warren Berger

Respond to questions - Never pride yourselves on teaching a great number of things. Rest content to rouse curiosity. Image of curious cats.

4 benefits of curiosity:

  1. Learn quicker – questions signal openness.
  2. Achieve more – curiosity innovates.
  3. Engage fully – curious people seek novelty.
  4. Connect powerfully – questions invite people into relationship.

“… curiosity-induced behaviors such as information seeking play a meaningful role in workplace learning as well as in job performance. Reio

Respond to curiosity - Curiosity sparks engagement. Image of child looking deeply into grass.

5 ways to respond to questions:

The best way to respond to questions is with encouragement.

#1. Pause and relax.

Don’t give quick answers. Sometimes you know the answer before the question is finished. Pause anyway. Smile. Relax.

A pause indicates interest.

A smile lets people know they matter.

#2. Respond to questions with questions.

You think you understand the question but you probably don’t.

  • Why is this important to you? (Use ‘why’ gently. It might feel like an accusation.)
  • What makes this matter to you?

#3. Affirm question-askers.

Asking questions creates vulnerability. An employee wonders what the boss thinks of them.

Let people know smart people ask questions.

  • It takes insight to ask questions like that.
  • That’s a great question.
  • I’m glad you asked.

#4. Expand and clarify questions.

  • Could you ask that question a different way?
  • Here’s what I hear you asking. Am I on target?

#5. Use body language to encourage questions.

  • Raise your eyebrows in curiosity.
  • Lean in and then lean back.
  • Say, “Hmmm,” or “Huh.” (Thanks Stan Endicott.)

Respond to questions in ways that create more questions.

“Never pride yourselves on teaching a great number of things. Rest content to rouse curiosity.” Anatole France

How do leaders discourage questions?

How can leaders encourage questions?

Still curious:

Curiosity – Remarkable Practices, Unexpected Benefits

Stop Asking Boring Questions – 3 Ways to Ask Questions People Love to Hear