7 Tips for Asking Highly Effective Questions

November 10, 2014

By: Chris Murchison

Originally posted on HopeLab’s blog

“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” –Stephen Covey

Business leaders support individuals and help them perform their best. But providing guidance and feedback to others can be challenging. People have shifting interests, concerns, and worries. So as a leader, you cannot support people unless you know what they think and how they feel. And this can only be done by asking meaningful questions and listening deeply.

Inquiry of this kind does not come naturally to everyone. Like most things in life, it takes practice and effort. The tips below, inspired by the Quaker practice of discernment, can help you hone your skills and become a better leader, in business, at home, or anywhere in between.

1. Powerful questions are simple. Complex inquiry can obscure what is really being asked. Keep it simple.

2. The best mark of a great question is that you cannot predict the answer. If you know the answer to a question you pose, then you are voicing a statement or opinion rather than an open and honest questions.

3. Ask questions that help people name what they already know. If we listen closely and carefully, answers to most questions come from inner experience. Allow space for people to connect to this experience.

4. Ask questions that expand exploration. Your questions should open up and expand inquiry, rather than narrow it down too quickly.

5. Ask questions about perceptions and feelings, not just the issue at hand. Sometimes answers aren’t found in our words but elsewhere in our body, a gut feeling, for example. Ask questions that allow people to connect with this experience.

6. Avoid storytelling or bringing attention to yourself. When listening to others, our heads can get filled with reactions to what a person is saying rather than listening deeply to their words. Stay focused on the other person and their story, not your own. Listen to understand.

7. Make room for silence. Responses to good questions can be like peeling an onion. There may be layer upon layer of answers until something deeply meaningful is revealed at the core. Getting through these layers requires time. Wait. Be patient.

The presence of a great thought partner and listener can be profound and highly influential in a person’s development. When people are truly heard, they feel a deeper sense of belonging, inspiring trust and loyalty and improving engagement and overall work performance. And when employees are engaged and performing at their best, you create the potential for positive impact on your organization’s culture.

Chris Murchison is Vice President of Staff Development and Culture at HopeLab