How Do You Ask?
Have you ever tried to get information from someone who just wasn’t giving you the answers you were looking for? You kept asking questions, but for some reason communication wasn’t happening?
If this sounds like a familiar situation in your life, it might be because of the way you are asking your questions. Check out Julie’s story below and see if it sounds like what’s happening in your world.
Julie was frustrated. She was trying to get information from her employees and clients, but they weren’t giving her the answers she was looking for. She thought they weren’t listening to her. However, as we worked together 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 specs are finished, right?” when she really wanted to know the complete status of the specs. 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 by assuming that 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. She learned that there are several ways to ask a question. Some of the most common of these are:
- Yes/No Questions, which can be answered with a single word, “Yes” or “No”. “Are the specs 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 specs be finished?” is an example of a 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 design?” 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 specs and how they are coming along?”
Julie realized that she often asked closed, informational questions when what she wanted was details. However, in order to get the complete status of the specs and to learn what was going on with them, an Open-Ended question is what she needed to use. She now understands that before she can ask the appropriate question, she has to know what type of information she wants to receive. 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 clients, employees, family and friends was flowing better and she was getting the information she wanted.
So, you might want to look at the way you ask questions. Are people confused about how to respond, or are you clear so they understand what you really want to know?
Please comment so others can benefit from your wisdom and experience.
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Excellent tip. Thanks Sandy.