This is a guest blog by Pamela A. Scott
Then one brave soul spoke up. “Do you think it’s likely that we can develop any sort of communication plan by continuing to pool our ignorance about how this decision was made?”
Chris Clarke-Epstein shares that story in her book “78 Important Questions Every Leaders Should Ask and Answer.”
What a great question! I particularly like “continuing to pool our ignorance. . .”
If only all questions were so wonderfully worded.
This blog focuses on asking good questions, a subject near and dear to my heart. And a challenge to just about every one of us. The blog also provides links to good questions already written for you to ask.
Your Prerequisite for This Blog
Before you dig in on how to ask questions, develop your curiosity. Curiosity is the basis for all questions. Young children torture us with their questions of “Why, Mommy?” “Why does it hurt when I fall off my bike, Daddy?” “Why is she looking at me like that?”
In our household, the latest question is “Why is Skylar (dog) giving me the stink eye?”
Another reason for upping your curiosity is that it will make you smarter. Albert Einstein once said, “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.” If it worked for him, then it can work for us too!
Have I stoked your curiosity about how to ask good questions? Let’s move on.
The Basics of a Good Question
A good question:
- Focuses on who is receiving the question
- Uses simple words — use words of one or two syllables (see why here from com)
- Is reasonably short — 20-25 words are OK, shorter is better (more on readability from com)
- Covers one topic — simplify your idea
- Includes one of the following words: who, what, where, when, why, or how
- Question word (who/what/where/when/how/why) – question phrase (how long, how often)
2. Auxiliary (or helping) verb (be/do/have … also modal auxiliary verbs = can/should/may/will)
3. Subject (I/you/we/they/he/she/it)
4. Main verb (e.g., play, eat, buy, etc.)
My question about Skylar translates into grammar like this:
Why (question word) is (auxiliary verb) Skylar (subject) giving (main verb) . . .
By the way, ESL sites are great resources for native speakers who have lost their knowledge of grammar or are curious about improving their writing and speaking. Another wonderful resource is Purdue OWL.
I can hear the groans. “I don’t remember grammar.” “I don’t want to have to come up with my own questions.” “I don’t have time to mess with this .”
If that sounds like you, you’re in luck. The next three sections include sources that are full of good questions that you can use immediately.
Get Curious and Learn From Terry Fadem
“Questions are powerful — they are management’s version of power tools. Anyone in a position of responsibility must treat them as such.”
Thank you, Terry Fadem, for that awesome statement. That’s one of dozens of points about asking effective questions from Fadem in “The Art of Asking: Ask Better Questions, Get Better Answers.”
I could go on ad nauseum here, but I won’t. (You’re welcome.) As the author states, “questioning is the skill of management” or at least it should be. If you are a manager, a want-to-be manager, or a leader, get this book. It’s funny and so easy to digest.
Get Curious and Learn From Gallup
The Gallup organization has extensively researched employee engagement and all things related to managers. In this article, Gallup shares Why Managers Must Ask 5 Questions to Empower Employees. These questions are for you to use with your staff.
Gallup says, “ We have been studying human nature and performance for over 75 years. When it comes to knowing what employees want and need to thrive in their workplace, we’ve got you covered.”
Check out Gallup’s Q-12 here. The questions will help you start a conversation with your staff.
Get Curious and Learn From Warren Berger
Warren Berger asks questions, lots of them. And his questions are designed to make you think — to spur your curiosity.
In “The Book of Beautiful Questions,” he groups his questions into four areas: decision-making, creativity, connecting with others, and leadership. Here are samples from each area.
- What am I really trying to decide here? What’s most important? What critical information do I have and not have?
- If I begin to see my attention as a precious resource, how might I better protect it? How can I shift from a “manager’s schedule” to a “maker’s schedule?”
- What if I advise less and inquire more? Why am I talking?
- Am I bringing together diverse people who can share points of view that I might be missing? At this time, what is the highest, best use of my time?
If you are a manager, a want-to-be manager, or a leader, this book provides questions that will help you grow yourself as well as staff.
Speaking of questions . . . Questions are a major part of any feedback session. Want to learn how to ask good questions when giving or getting feedback? Check out our free ebook, Focused Feedback in 15. You’ll be glad you did. This post originally appeared on MentorLoft.com.
About the Author Pamela A. Scott
Pam is an executive coach to CEOs and business owners, focusing on communication, managing people, leadership, and emotional intelligence. Her tagline says it best: “Numbers may drive the business, but people drive the numbers.”®
Pam started her company more than 20 years ago. For much of that time, Pam has coached engineers and architects to be leaders in their companies.
She brings more than 25 years of communications expertise and leadership experience as:
- A national award-winning newspaper editor
- A communications specialist writing for Congress
- A successful entrepreneur specializing in coaching clients to reach their full potential
Clients have ranged from solo practitioners to companies such as Turner Broadcasting System, Coca Cola, Federal Reserve Bank, and engineering firms such as Walter P. Moore. For 15 years, Pam was a member of Vistage, an international organization of CEOs.
Pam has a master’s in education and human development from George Washington University and a bachelor’s in communication from Bethany College. In Toastmasters, she has achieved Advanced Communicator Bronze and Advanced Leadership Bronze levels.
We would love to hear any questions you might have or stories you might share on how to ask effective questions to get the answers you need.
Please leave your comments, feedback or questions in the section below.
To your success,
Anthony Fasano, PE, LEED AP
Engineering Management Institute
Author of Engineer Your Own Success