Not all questions are created equal. In the workplace, there are good and bad ways to get an answer, but you have to know how to ask the question.
Jeff Haden, author and Inc. Magazine contributing editor, explains the difference between a bad question and a great one that will get you the information you need to be productive.
Leading or limiting questions
According to Haden, when a person feels they already have the answer, they ask a question that will lead a person to give the answer they want. A leading or limiting question might be something as simple as asking what time to close up shop: “Do you think we should close earlier since we’ve barely had any customers today?” assumes an answer.
A better way to ask this question is: “What do you think about closing early today?”
You may end up with the same answer, but you are also inviting the person to give their opinion and offer alternative options.
You’ve encountered a problem at work and have decided to seek the counsel of a coworker.
“Should we stay on course with the current plan, even though we know there is a flaw, or should we start over?” you ask. The question, similar to a leading question, directs a person to give one of two answers, instead of exploring other, and perhaps better, options.
Instead, the question asked should be: “We’ve discovered this problem with the plan. What would you recommend we do?”
Don’t assume an answer with your question. Allow your colleagues the chance to think and put forth suggestions.
Avoid seeking clarification
According to Haden, asking questions might make an employee feel weak, as though they should have all the answers. But reality tells us no one person can have all the answers. If there is something you should understand, but have trouble grasping the concept, there are ways to ask for help.
Lead with a compliment, “I’m impressed” or “Great work” and follow up with a simple question: “Pretend I don’t know anything about the project. How would you explain it?” or “I don’t want to miss any key ideas; walk me through your presentation again.”
Another approach requires a little humility, but telling your colleagues, even your subordinates, that, “I’m not sure I understand, but I would like to. Please go thought it again,” is vital when it’s true.
Asking better questions ultimately leads to better answers that will help you and your colleagues work with a clear understanding of your objectives and duties.