Last week we started talking about how asking good questions in the right way could improve communication and cooperation with your staff and coworkers. The first three recommendations were to listen carefully, control your emotions, and start with something positive. Today we will discuss a few more strategies.
Build on agreement. If your question is likely to reflect disagreement or an alternative point of view, attempt to find something you can agree on first and preface your question with it. For example, “I agree with you that we need a policy governing this issue. My question concerning your recommendation for the policy is this…” Agreement on an issue, no matter how small, puts you in less of an adversarial role.
Avoid “why” questions. The word “why” can come across as accusatory, and communicates disappointment or disapproval. This one little word has the power to trigger a defensive reaction. See if you can rephrase your question by using “what” or “how” instead of “why” and eliminate the personal pronoun “you”. For example, instead of asking, “Why did you make the decision before consulting with us?” you may say, “What made it necessary to make the decision before consulting with us?” This simple change in phrasing can keep the matter from becoming personal and allows you to stay focused on the facts.
Stay off the soapbox. People sometimes use the opportunity to ask a question as a platform for expressing what they think the answer should be. If you are sincerely looking for information to increase your understanding, construct your question appropriately so the discussion can move forward.
Avoid personal attacks and sarcasm. Questions containing personal jabs or sarcasm greatly discount the value of an important question and may reflect a lack of personal integrity and self-control. Fight the temptation to “act out” your emotions by staying focused on the facts, not the person.
Ask “Do you agree?” One effective way to solicit dialogue is to state your understanding of the issue and the decision you believe is best and then simply ask, “Do you agree?” For example, “I believe it would not be prudent for us to use ABC Engineering for this project given the challenges we experienced with them last year. Do you agree?” Sharing your views in this non-threatening manner gives the respondent the opportunity to either see your point and agree with you, or to disagree and offer information that will add to your understanding of the issue.
Ask “open-ended” questions. An open-ended question invites more than just a “yes” or “no” answer. It opens the door to more dialogue and the possibility for greater understanding. Instead of asking, “Do you support the new computer networking proposal?” you may request, “Please tell me what you think of the new computer networking proposal.” The open-ended question will likely tell you where the person stands on the issue, and also why they have taken the position that they have.
Well-constructed questions, asked in the right way and at the right time, increase the likelihood of productive dialogue. And remember, whether you are asking questions or expressing an opinion, if you treat people with courtesy and respect most of them will bend over backwards to cooperate with you as you work toward successful resolution of the issue.
Live, Work and Relate Well!