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Questions with purpose: Educing information and ideas is all in the phrasing

What makes a good question? 

In my 20 years as a coach and consultant, I’ve worked with many clients and organizations to think about the types of questions they usually ask and about the ways to make those inquiries more impactful. When needing confirmation on information, a yes/no question will suffice. Yet if you are asking about an employee’s level of engagement, seeking fresh ideas on creative solutions or providing support, an open-ended question will give you more robust information. Consider these situations and potential questions:  

Delegating a new project 

  • What will be your first step? 
  • What will success look like? 
  • What roadblocks can you foresee? 
  • How much support do you need from me? 
  • How often should we touch base on your progress? 

Career development 

  • What do you like about your current job? 
  • What additional responsibility would you like to take on to enhance your skills? 
  • Where do you see yourself in five years? 
  • What is your ultimate career goal? 
  • What are your strengths?

Improving team dynamics 

  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate our team dynamics? 
  • What’s missing from our team? 
  • What additional training or support could we use? 
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate our team’s communication? 
  • How can we foster more trust in our team?  

When formulating a powerful question, starting with “what” or “how” usually lands best. Be mindful of your tone and ask questions from a place of curiosity instead of judgement. Try to stay away from “why” questions, as these can make people feel defensive. 

Give some thought to the typical questions you ask and see if you can work to turn them into powerful inquiries. Then practice those good listening skills; you might be amazed at what you learn.