“It is not the answer that enlightens, but the question.” – Eugene Ionesco
A powerful and mindfully crafted question can create confidence. Solid questions lead to breakthroughs, opportunities, resolutions, innovations, or even power shifts. Success depends on knowing what you want to ask and how to ask it.
While it seems counterintuitive, asking a well-crafted question actually puts one in a position of power—not one of vulnerability—even when the question appears deferential. Think about it. When a recipient in response to a project outline confidently requests clarification, she takes command of the situation. Furthermore, posing ideas through questions generates excitement, innovation, and discovery. One the most innovative thinkers, Albert Einstein, once asked: “What if I could ride a beam of light across the universe?”
So, it’s worth taking the time to look at how questions can be used in the workplace and how they can affect the outcome of a situation, goal, or event. Understanding a few, basic question types and using them deliberately and thoughtfully can add finesse to your communication style and effectiveness.
The Information Question:
Is something difficult to understand in an email, meeting, or report? The Information Question asks for facts, clarification, or definition and can be crafted in two ways. The direct, close-ended question requires a simple, yes/no response. The more complex, open-ended question requires more detailed information.
Let’s have a closer look.
A close-ended question can be used as an opener for an email, presentation, or sales call to generate thought or further conversation. It immediately directs your audience and requires a simple response. For instance, ask for an evaluation of circumstances: “Do you attract clients through your Linkedin bio?” The yes/no response would point toward a clear outcome, but more importantly it requires an examination/evaluation.
The open-ended question generates conversation. Rephrase the question above to: “What does your LinkedIn bio really say about you?” Notice how it stimulates thought and begs for a dialogue as well as a solution.
The Strategic Question:
A well-analyzed strategy plays a central role in helping teams and individuals estimate and plan—from how much food to order for a catered event to conducting risk assessment when insuring a piece of commercial real-estate. This the “how” and “why” category of questioning.
Building out a logical series of causal (if/then) questions will lead to new understanding. Asking strategic causal questions helps avoid potential pitfalls by seeing around and through problems. “What if we don’t know what we don’t know?” The query leads to solving a problem—gaining new insights and innovative discoveries or skill-building techniques.
Funneling is a strategic technique that requires beginning with general questions moving to more specific ones. When interviewing try getting the big picture first—“What is your vision for this company?” Then move on to more specifics such as, “What are your specific goals for this project?”
Building good analytical questions takes time. Make sure that you ask questions that benefit the whole team/organization for more successful results.
The Persuasive Question:
All of us practice persuasion daily whether it’s getting the IT professional to upgrade your software, or convincing your child to eat green beans. Different emotions motivate people to act or think differently. Therefore, the Persuasive Question can be used to destabilize or stabilize depending on how it’s asked. Let’s look at the two approaches:
The first question agitates the recipient and creates a need that the questioner can then fill with a product or service. The second yields hope and comfort thus empowering the recipient and builds trust.
A subcategory of the persuasive question is the Rhetorical Question. A rhetorical question does not require an answer because the answer is obvious. The question is asked to make a point or to persuade. Use rhetorical questions sparingly to produce an effect, mood or tone. For example, “Do pigs fly?” Obviously they don’t, but a point has been made.
That said be wary of using sarcasm, casting blame, or inciting any other kind of negative emotion with your question. This is rarely a good move. Review your original intent and make certain you are moving toward a desirable outcome. For instance, if a staff member declines a training opportunity you are offering and states she has “other priorities” that day, think before you respond with a harsh rhetorical question such as “Don’t you want to improve your understanding of the software?” While you may make your point clearly, you may also damage a relationship. Instead think of using an information question: “Is there a better time for you to learn the ins and outs of the software?” This approach addresses the real goal, which is to invite a colleague to participate.
So, what will make your questions more effective and daily exchanges more rewarding? Here are a few tips:
Remember, asking intelligent, thoughtful and strategic questions only reflects well on you.
Ready to give it a try?