What makes a great question? Here are 4 ways to make a question truly great…
1. A great question is a question that matters. The person asking truly wants an answer.
2. A great question is neutral. The answer isn’t included in the question.
3. A great question leads to results rather than reflection.
4. A great question is not burdened by opinion or personality.
Ask the right questions, and only the right questions, at the right time. When you do that, you clear the way for your direct report’s self-discovery.
Asking Great Questions: Guideline One:
Don’t ask a question unless you truly want an answer.
Diane loves to talk to everyone at work about what she does over the weekend, especially the time she spends with her grandchildren. It doesn’t get in the way of her work. But, give her an opportunity to talk about her weekend and you will have trouble stopping her.
Ashley needs some overtime work on a special project that is going to require some weekend hours. Ashley knows that Diane is the best person for the job. She approaches Diane and the first question she asks is: ‘What are you doing this weekend?’
Think about Ashley’s question for a moment: Is that the question Ashley should be asking? No. Diane will start a long story about her grandchildren before her boss can get a word in edge-wise.
Consider (for Ashley): I have a special project that is important, Diane. You are the best person for the job. Could you come in Saturday from 10-3 and complete it?
Don’t ignore Diane’s needs. Just be mindful of the answer you really want before you ask a question.
Asking Great Questions: Guideline Two:
Don’t include the answer in your question.
You do not have to put your answers in your questions. See if you can identify where the manager’s conclusions are embedded in these questions:
• Isn’t that your favorite movie?
• Don’t you think Brian is the best worker?
In these two examples, you’ll see that the manager’s answer is contained in their question. That’s a great movie. Brian is the best worker.
Your people should come up with their own conclusions. Empower your people. Help them think for themselves and come up with their own conclusions. Don’t include the answer in your questions.
Asking Great Questions: Guideline Three:
Be careful with the ‘why’ question.
Think about the ‘why’ question. What happens when you get a flurry of ‘why, why, why’ coming at you? You get defensive. When you ask a direct report a ‘why’ question, you can shut them down and impede two-way communication. That’s not what you want.
To be clear, asking ‘why’ has its place. However, it should not be your first question, in most cases. There are better questions for you to ask instead.
Here are some examples:
Example: Why did you do that?
Consider: What happened?
Example: Why do you think that happened?
Consider: What could you have done differently?
Example: Why are you saying that?
Consider: What is that about?
Try replacing ‘why’ with ‘what’ for just one day. You will be amazed at how differently your people will respond.
Asking Great Questions: Guideline Four:
Understand how much you bring to the conversation.
You do not have to be part of every equation. You may think: “I have experience and knowledge my people need to hear. It is important to share this every time I speak.”
Don’t get in the way of the question. Do you know how much you are ‘in’ every question you ask? We don’t realize how often our own thoughts get caught up in the words we say.
Tim, is Martha ever going to give you that report?
This sounds accusatory. You are giving neither Tim nor Martha benefit of the doubt. Both of them could become defensive.
When can I expect the results from Martha, Tim?
Tim, what’s the latest on that report Martha’s working on?
Coaching is not an option. It’s a survival skill.
Coaching leaders ask great questions, following these four important rules.
1. Don’t ask a question unless you truly want an answer.
2. Don’t include the answer in your question.
3. Be careful of the ‘why’ question.
4. Understand how much you bring to the conversation.
Ask great questions and you truly can unleash the creativity your organization needs to survive.
Join Judy Colemon-Kinebrew as she dives deeper into ‘How to Ask Great Questions’ on our next webinar. It will air on Wednesday, September 4th from 1:00-1:30pm EST. Click here to register.
For more information, our Sherpa Leadership Video Series, which includes ‘Asking Great Questions’ are also available on line at the Sherpa Store. www.sherpacoaching.com.