How Do You Ask?

The words questions with question marks

Julie was frustrated.   She was trying to get information from her employees, but they weren’t giving her the answers she was looking for.   She thought they weren’t listening to her. However, as we talked it became apparent that she also had this trouble in her personal life, when she communicated with her husband, children and friends.

As we explored the situation it became apparent that the problem was in the way Julie asked questions. Instead of asking what she wanted to know and letting the other person give her an answer, she often asked the question with the answer imbedded in it.   She turned a statement into a question, and the listener ended up confused about what she wanted to know.   For example, she would say, “The report is finished, right?” when she really wanted to know the complete status of the report. When she asked questions this way she made assumptions that might not be correct, and set herself up to be wrong (the listener could either validate what she said – “Yes, it is completed”, or worse, “No, it’s not ready yet.”)

This method of questioning also invalidates the person she is talking with and assumes Julie has to give them the answer.

Julie realized that in order to obtain the information she wanted she had to ask the question correctly.   Together we spent time looking at the different ways to ask questions. Some of the most common of these are:

  • Yes/No Questions, which can be answered with a single word, “Yes” or “No”. “Is the report finished?” is a typical yes/no question.
  • Factual/Informational Questions, which look for more than just yes or no, but usually have a single, simple answer. “When will the report be finished?” is an example of an Factual/Informational question. You gain new information, but in a very narrow framework.
  • Opinion Questions, which have no right or wrong answers. Ask this type of question when you want to know what a person thinks or feels about a subject. “What do you think about the report?” is a typical Opinion Question.
  • Open-Ended Questions, which usually start with “What”, “How” or “Please Tell me ”. Asking an open-ended question will get you the most information, and may open new avenues of discussion. . An example of an open-ended question is, “Will you please tell me about the report and how it’s coming along?”

Julie realized that an Open-Ended question is what she needed to ask in order to get the complete status of the report and to learn what was going on with it.

Julie realized that she often asked closed, informational questions when she really wanted more information. She now understands that in order to ask the appropriate question she has to know what type of information she wants before ever opening her mouth. If she wants a “Yes” or “No”, a simple date or place, or an opinion, she will ask informational questions. However, when she wants an overview, she will phrase her question in an open-ended way designed to elicit more information.

Julie experimented with asking more open-ended questions and was happily surprised to find her communication with her employees, family and friends was flowing better and she was getting the information she wanted.

So, how do you ask questions? Are people confused about how to respond, or are you clear about what you really want to know?

Please comment so others can benefit from your wisdom and experience. 

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