Albert Einstein famously said that one should never stop asking questions. Nowhere is this truer than in business leadership, where asking the right questions can distinguish a great leader from a good one.
Asking good questions can help leaders uncover challenges, generate better solutions and create aha moments that lead to growth. Asking good questions can also improve a manager’s ability to plan, troubleshoot and connect with employees in meaningful ways. Finally, leaders who ask powerful questions of their employees often have the greatest success in realizing new opportunities and building more positive work cultures.
In this blog, we explore 10 ways leaders can become better at asking questions:
1. Be curious: Being curious about what others have to say is essential to forming good questions. Practice and improve this important skill.
2. Ask open-ended Questions: Constructing questions that use what, how, and why encourage dialogue. Get people to describe what happened and what they were thinking. Asking open-ended questions can lead to unexpected and fulsome answers that can lead to better results.
3. Be engaged and involve others: Show that you care and demonstrate that you are interested with positive facial expressions and engaged body language. This kind of engagement can lead to further conversation and encourage the person to share information that could be important. Also consider broadcasting questions throughout the organization, to connect with expertise and perspectives from a broader and more diverse set of sources.
4. Dig deeper: When information surfaces in conversations and meetings, dig for more details when appropriate. Focusing on learning rather than judging when asking questions will help reveal the entire picture.
5. Ask big questions: Focusing questions on new and big opportunities rather than on the existing activities of the organization can help leaders communicate ambition and the desire to take the organization beyond where it is today. For example: What is a game-changing opportunity that could create much more value than we have delivered in the past?
6. Ask follow-up questions: Follow-up questions can signal to your employees that their leader cares and wants to know more, and can help them feel more respected and valued.
7. Use the right tone: Asking questions in a more casual way can help employees to feel comfortable and be more responsive. In an environment where judgement is suspended, individuals are more likely to answer questions thoroughly and honestly.
8. Watch the group dynamic: Depending on whether it is a one-on-one or group conversation, the dynamic can change. The willingness to answer questions is often affected by the presence of others – members of a group often tend to follow one another’s lead in answering questions. This means that only one or two closed off people can affect a group dynamic – so too can the one person who opens up and leads the rest of the group to communicate openly.
9. Avoid question stacking: Asking the same question repeatedly in different ways – or question stacking – can lead to employees turning off and tuning out. Try to ask questions one at a time.
10. Change your culture: By asking the right questions, leaders can help employees overcome some of their anxiety and fears. Questions that help people focus on short-term actions they can take together can provide a focusing and calming effect during a crisis. In addition, good questions can contribute to a learning culture that increases employee confidence.
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