Sometimes it takes some digging to get to the root of things – and asking questions is a great way to do that.
But, not all questions are created equal.
- Some questions are easy to answer but their answers provide little, if any, new insights.
- Example: ‘Why’d ya do THAT?!’
- The problem: Aside from the unavoidable judgment that will likely be in your tone, ‘why?’ questions, like these, tend to provide answers that are rarely of much help.
- Better: ‘What did you learn for the next time?’ or some other question that encourages realizations and learning rather than excuses and justifications.
- Some questions are easy to ask, but too hard to succinctly answer.
- Example: ‘What specific steps did you take that resulted in this mess?’
- The problem: In trying to get the details right, key insights are often lost or overlooked by both those explaining and listening to the explanation.
- Better: ‘When did things start going sideways?’ or something that gets them to summarize the core issues of what they have to share.
- Some questions make it too easy to get only part of the story – especially if you’re curiosity quotient is a bit low.
- Example: ‘Did you address that customer issue I told you about?’
- The problem: Closed-ended questions (ones that enables a yes- or no-type response) allow the person you’re asking to omit key information. You may get a definitive ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response, but you still won’t know what they did, when they did it, how well they did it, who they talked with, etc.
- Better: ‘How did you address that customer issue I told you about?’ or another open-ended type question to allows you to know enough to speak knowledgeably about the matter.
Follow Up with Follow-Up Questions
It’s always best to assume that the first few questions you ask – whatever questions they are – will provide you with some, but definitely not all, of what you need, answer-wise. That’s why probing follow-up questions are so important. It’s in THEIR answers that the real insight and understanding reside.
Not sure what probing follow-up question to ask next? Try any one of these:
- ‘What ELSE do you want to add to what you’ve told me so far?’
- ‘What OTHER questions would it make sense for me to ask or for you to answer?’
- ‘HOW do you want to proceed at this point, then?’
See what those questions do to improve the breadth and depth of the information you receive.