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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.


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