Why Asking Questions Is An Essential Management Skill
We often operate in the dark and are amazed/frightened/saddened/angered when issues and problems emerge that we really should have been aware of in the first place!
Not knowing enough caused by a failure to ask the right questions is all to common in management yet there are some easy solutions to get more information which will help you.
Using questions aids in the exchange and development of ideas and innovation – the more you find out from asking questions the better able you are to deal with what would have been uncertainty! Questioning also builds trust and raises the value of shared information.
This can be a personal quest – just as some of us are confident in social and business situations and some are not, questions and using them comes more naturally for some and not others. It is true to say however that very few of us, in any context, ask enough questions and many just clam up and are too shy/nervous to start the process off.
Managers with a good understanding of Emotional Intelligence ask lots of questions and are more successful than those who do not.
- Ask no questions, get no information! We might be too wrapped up in our own world, putting our opinions above those of others, to even bother to ask questions. Some just do not care or consider the opinions of others and what they know, some are just shy and inward-looking. Others are worried that they will ask the “wrong” question.
- Volume is important. You can overdo this but generally people who ask questions of others are more widely liked than those who do not as they are showing an interest in the other person. Questions and conversation are the glue of good business relationships and bond people together both inside and outside the organisation. To improve your connections and to make them really work for you be willing to ask questions to get critical pieces of information, remembering that no-one likes an interrogation!
- Competitive or cooperative conversations? The style of the conversation will govern the number and quality of questions that you might want to consider using.
- Develop strong and effective follow-up questions. Questions fall into 4 differrent types – Introductory questions, mirror questions (seeking confirmation about key points), switch questions (where you will totally change the topic of the discussion or conversation) and follow-up questions (where you are trying to gain further information or clarification). Your follow-up questions should come along naturally and the more of these you use the more you will uncover!
- Use open-ended questions (those that cannot be answered with a Yes or No) whenever possible. Bear in mind that this can be overpowering and intimidating if done badly BUT their use is essential if you want to really understand what is going on.
- Avoid closed questions (those that can only be answered with a Yes or No response) as these can introduce bias and manipulation.
- Maximise your information gathering with an appropriate mix and balance of open and closed questions.
- If you need to ask sensitive questions that may not be easily asked outright embed your questions into a scenario or a “what if” discussion so that you can cover the ground that you need to without putting the other party under stress.
- Get the sequence right. The optimal order of your questions depends on the circumstances. During tense encounters, asking tough questions first, even if it feels socially awkward to do so, can make your conversational partner more willing to open up. The less intrusive questions can then follow which will allow the respondent to be more forthcoming as they are more at ease at this point.
- Use the right tone. People are more forthcoming when you ask questions in a casual way, rather than in a more formal and possibly more threatening style.
- Look at the group dynamics for clues. The presence of others will affect how questions are being answered. Some may be intimidated by the presence of others whilst others will use this as a support mechanism. Group dynamics can also affect how a question asker is perceived.
Questions are a bit of a dance and require both sides to be working together fir this to be effective: make sure your approach and technique is suited to the situation you are in!
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