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Answers can only be as good as the question they answer – Tips for Asking Good Questions

No one says everything you want to hear in the exact order, depth, and detail that you prefer. That’s why the chief tool of a good listener is a good question. Well-crafted questions can stimulate, draw out, and guide the discussion.

Use these guidelines when developing questions:

  • Plan your questions. Before your meeting, outline your information goals and a sequence of related questions to help you follow the conversation and cue your notes.
  • Know your purpose. Every question you ask should help you gather either facts or an opinion. Know which kind of information you need and frame your questions accordingly.
  • Open conversation. Unlike simple yes-or-no questions, open-ended questions invite the respondent to talk — and enable you to gather much more information. “What do you like best about this company?” is likely to generate more valuable information than “Do you like this company?” Another tactic is to ask a question in the declarative format — “Tell me about that.” People who won’t answer questions sometimes respond better to direct order.
  • Speak your listener’s language. Relate questions to the listener’s frame of reference and use words and phrases that your listener understands. For example, avoid industry jargon when you’re negotiating with someone outside your industry. If someone doesn’t seem to understand what you’re asking, try rephrasing.
  • Use neutral wording. Asking leading questions, such as “How’d you like the terrific amenities at that conference centre?” is unproductive. Because the question expresses a glowing opinion of the venue, the other person isn’t likely to say anything negative about it, even if he hated the place. He hasn’t altered his feelings; he just hasn’t expressed them, and you’ve lost an opportunity to influence him. A neutral question that elicits accurate information or an honest opinion — such as “How did you like it?” — is much more helpful.
  • Follow general questions with specific ones. Build a hierarchy of questions that begins with the big picture and gradually drills down into specifics with follow-up questions.
  • Focus your questions so they ask one thing at a time. To get more complete answers, craft short questions, each of which covers a single point. If you really want to know two different things, ask two different questions.
  • Ask only essential questions. If you don’t really care about the information that’s likely to come, don’t ask the question. Respect the other person’s time and attention to avoid appearing resistant to closing the deal.
  • Don’t interrupt. Listen to the full answer to your question. The art of good questioning lies in truly wanting the information that would be in the answer.
  • Transition naturally. Use something in the answer to frame your next question. Even if this takes you off your planned path for a while, it shows that you’re listening, not just hammering through your agenda, and it ensures that the conversation flows naturally.

Rule #1

Don’t make assumptions.

I cannot stress enough the importance of open communication, asking questions whenever relevant, and avoiding any silent assumptions. This rule applies to your normal day-to-day work, talking to your colleagues, or undergoing an interview process.

Rule #2

Think deep

Life throws at us many options and it is very easy to get lost and lose focus in life. At times, it is also very important to ask relevant questions of ourselves.

Before you start some work, always ask yourself three questions:

  • Why are you doing it
  • What might the results be, and
  • Will you be successful.

Only when you think deeply and find satisfactory answers to these questions, go ahead. Ch

Rule #3

No question is stupid

If you are like me, then I totally understand how hard it is to push yourself to ask a question.

No one is dumb who is curious. The people who don’t ask questions remain clueless throughout their lives.

Once you start asking questions, innocence is gone

Examples

Based on my experience, a few real-world examples explain the need to ask questions.

#1: When using an acronym

A common scenario is when one person uses an acronym that might not be very common. You can politely ask the person to abbreviate the acronym rather than making silent assumptions and thereby ending up with a different conclusion.

#2: Maintaining your homework log

Another scenario is to silently note down points when you are too shy to ask questions openly. You end up building a homework log for yourself and spend double the time to get answers for the very questions which could have been answered instantly if you’d had the courage to ask in the first place.

Research shows this is a prevalent case with under-represented groups and people of color. As a woman of color, I myself, have done this n number of times when I have been too scared to be framed for not knowing anything. This is a clear symptom of having Imposter Syndrome.

Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want or need to know. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness, and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life. 

#3: During an interview

While there is enough advice available on preparing yourself for an interview process and the questions to ask, I too would like to stress the importance of asking a few relevant questions when given the time. As an interviewer myself, I really like when interviewers ask questions.

#4: Issues and pull requests

Dealing with the OpenSource world gets better with experience. I can still recall the days when I was new and everything was too overwhelming. Naturally, I was too shy to comment on an issue or pull request and used to spend a considerable amount of time before I made a public statement.

Get a mentor or practice with your colleagues reviewing each other’s pull requests in a constructive manner. Trust me, this gets much better over time.

Conclusion

Having said all that, while we have to get better at asking questions, it is also equally important to be in an environment that fosters the culture of asking questions and giving encouraging answers. 

Below are a few pointers on how to achieve this:

  1. Do not make fun of others or shame them for asking questions
  2. It is ok to not know the answer to everything
  3. Be humble in accepting the above fact
  4. Learn new things while discovering answers to unknown questions
  5. Share your learnings

I would be very much interested in knowing your thoughts and experiences on this subject. 

Please share your feedback. Thank you!

Marius Joubert
Author: Marius Joubert

Founder of Restauranthub.co the first true community for the restaurant and hospitality industry.

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