How to ask better questions at work

If you are trying to build stronger work relationships with your employers, spending your time espousing your views until their eyes glaze over is not the way to do it. The key is to ask better questions. When you ask a question you invite the people into the conversation and communicate to them that their opinion is important. If you do all the talking, you communicate that only you are important.

Start with open-ended questions. An open-ended question can’t be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” It invites people to share their opinions or perspective. If you really want to know what a person thinks about a particular policy or the new procedure, ask an open-ended question and more than likely you will hear plenty. “What do you think will improve our service?” “What do you think are the biggest barriers we face around here?” “How do you feel about the changes we made around here last week?” When these questions are asked the person is forced to consider his position. As long as you have given the permission to speak freely he will fill your ear.

Open-ended questions not only help employees feel part of the process it gives you a better picture of reality. Sure it takes a little more time and may not be as uniform as a paper or an online survey but the face-to-face contact as well as the invitation to participate offers positive benefits.

Open-ended questions result in follow up conversations. You might catch a person off guard when you pose a thought-provoking question but once you get them thinking most likely they will approach you: “Hey, I was thinking about that question you asked me a few days ago. Here are a few more thoughts I have on the subject…” Between the first time you posed the question and this second conversation, his mind has been actively engaged with the subject. That’s a much better response than if you asked a closed-ended question: “Did you like the changes we implemented last week?” Response: Yes / No

Closed-ended questions can be appropriate. If you are trying to gather some baseline information or to check a person’s understanding, all you need is a yes/no response. For example, if you’ve just explained a new process for achieving a task, a simple, “Do you understand what I’ve asked you to do?” is really all you need. A week later you could ask, “How is this new procedure working for you?” Now you have an opportunity to make adjustments or improvements to the procedure.

Learn to ask more open-ended questions to get your employees talking and engaged in the dialog at work.  Take to heart a quote by Charles P. Steinmetz: “No man really becomes a fool until he stops asking questions.”

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