The art of asking effective questions

Have you ever asked someone a question that they misinterpreted? You meant to ask about one thing, but they thought you were asking about something else, and the situation quickly got out of hand? In this article I’ll explain 7 tips that will help you ask better questions and as a result, get better answers. Additionally, I’ll introduce a simple framework you can apply to help you start asking effective questions.

The quality of our lives are determined by the quality of our thinking. The quality of our thinking is determined by the quality of our questions. Questions are the drivers behind thinking. Without questions, we have nothing to wonder about, nothing dream about and nothing to hope for. Without essential questions, we often fail to focus our thinking on the significant and substantive.

7 tips for asking effective questions

  1. Intent matters
  2. Active listening
  3. Checking assumptions
  4. Avoiding leading questions
  5. Gaining permission
  6. One at a time
  7. Showing emotional intelligence

Intent matters

Your intent is important. Every question has a driving force behind it. The more you understand your intent and focus on it, the clearer your questions will be and the more effectively they will be communicated. Altruistic and positive intentions are received well by most people. Understand the intent of your questions. Are your intentions to help others get what they want, in a way they feel good about or are they to get what you want in a way to feel good about?

Be certain about your intent prior to asking a question.

Active listening

When you ask a question, listen to the answer. let me repeat that. LISTEN to the answer. The biggest mistake people make is forming their subsequent questions while the person responding is talking. This behavior of pre-forming questions prevents a deep understanding of the speaker’s perspective and creates a communication breakdown. By fully engaging with the person while they’re responding, you will be able to use your intuition to differentiate what the person is saying and what they mean.

Focus on a person’s answer, not on your next question.

Checking assumptions

Often time when questions form in our minds, we guess the answer and make assumptions. You might see a homeless person on a street corner and assume they are addicted to drugs, when in reality they might’ve lost their sense of purpose when a loved one died. When you ‘feel’ a question, ask it. Unless you know the answer as a matter of fact, don’t make any assumptions.

If you’re uncertain, seek clarity – don’t make assumptions.

Avoiding leading questions

Leading questions come across as manipulative and ‘sales-y’. Leading questions are designed to get a desired agreement instead of gaining information or understanding. Asking non-leading questions will allow you to have a better conversation by asking for the person’s true feelings and desires.

Examples:

  • Leading: You wouldn’t want to do it like that would you?Non-leading: How would you like to do it?
  • Leading: Sounds like this is causing you significant pain, right?Non-leading: Is this causing you significant pain?
  • Leading: You feel like eating sushi, right?Non-leading: What do you feel like eating?
Ask non-leading questions that will elicit genuine responses.

Gaining permission

Sometimes you might feel entitled to ask others all sorts of questions. However, the right to ask questions must be earned. By preparing the person for the questions that will follow, they are mentally prepared to answer. Doing so displays your empathy and allows you to ask people questions at the right time and try again another time if they aren’t in the mood to share (they had a long day etc.) This is especially effective when dealing with sensitive/important issues.

Example:

  • We discussed some important things yesterday. I want to make sure I fully understand what you understood. Would it be okay if I asked you some questions first?
Ask for permission when asking questions about sensitive/important issues to make the other person feel comfortable.

One at a time

Often times you might fall into the trap of firing off many questions at once. When a person is faced with rapid fire questions, they are unsure which question to answer and makes it difficult to focus on one issue at a time. Instead of taking this machine gun style approach, try using a sniper approach. Carefully select your question that you would like an answer to and ask it. By asking a clear, concise question, you’ll get a clear, concise answer.

Ask clear, concise questions, one at a time.

Showing emotional intelligence

Showing emotional intelligence is arguably the most difficult skill to master in asking effective questions. It displays a high level of understanding of human interaction and puts you on a different level. Sometimes we have to ask difficult questions, the key to asking them effectively is by adding emotional intelligence into the mix.

Example:

  • No emotional¬†intelligence: why do you think this issue is a problem?
  • Emotional intelligence: it sounds like this issue has been difficult for you right now – and if I were you, I’m sure I’d be sharing much of the same perspective as you (emotional intelligence). What’s going on that leads you to believe this issue really is a problem?
Show you understand the other person’s perspective by increasing your emotional intelligence.

Framework to ask effective questions

 

  • Purpose – Why am I asking this question?/What am I implying by asking my question?
  • Opinion – What is my point of view with respect to my question?
  • Assumption – What assumptions am I making in asking my question?
  • Criteria – What information do I need to answer my question?
  • Empathy – How do I show empathy for the other person when asking my question?

This framework has helped me ask better quality questions and as a result get better quality answers.

How do you ask effective questions?

Let me know in the comments section below!

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