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Wrong Question, Right Answer.

Asking questions is a subtle art and everyone can benefit from improving their knowledge of questioning techniques. Asking questions is the only way of accessing knowledge from other people, so asking the right question in the right way is crucially important.

When approached correctly, questions can motivate and inspire people, generate novel ideas and change the perception of a problem or situation.

Asking questions is an Art. There is a real art to asking good questions and it is a very important art, particularly for those in positions of authority.  “Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers”-Voltaire.


A good place to start is to generally avoid closed questions, THE GOLDEN RULE = NO CLOSED QUESTIONS. Ask closed questions, those that require a yes or no answer, and that is all you are likely to get back – a closed answer and the end of the discussion. Try Open Questions... Why did that happen? How can we solve this problem? What would you do in this situation? These will lead to considered answers, people are more engaged and opens doors to other ideas. Open questions are particularly important in meetings where lots of people are jostling for attention and wanting to pitch in with ideas and opinions.  Good questions will get everyone in the room thinking.Rules were made to be broken. The following techniques all make careful use of closed questions in combination with open questions to get to specific information. Make sure you know your goal when you start a line of questioning, whether that is a specific piece of information, or getting a thorough overview of something, and then pick the right questioning tool for the job. Probe: Listen to the answers you are given and dig deeper where you need to know more. Probing is best used for when you are dealing with someone who is evasive or you are trying to understand a very specific problem. Probe questions are usually closed questions that look for clarity in what someone is saying and are good for getting to the root cause of problems by drilling down quickly. Try asking "why" 5 times to get to the root cause of the problem. General statements like ‘There was a problem with the delivery’ can be followed with questions that look for specifics about the situation, and that calls for a closed questioning style: What was the Problem? Who Let you know about the problem? When did you find out about the issues? Funnelling. Funnelling is a way of asking questions that either start broadly and become increasingly closed and specific. Depending on the situation, the opposite can also work, by focusing someone with a closed question then you can continue by opening the questions up to gather a broader amount of information. This starts with giving the person you are asking the opportunity to remember the specifics of a situation and then work towards the broader detail.  When you ask them the wider questions they will already be thinking about the situation and recalling information from the time more clearly. Specific --> Broad. How many people were there at the conference? Were there many sales people there? what industries were they from? What areas are most important for us to be looking into further? What were the main things you discussed? This is a good way of getting to specific information. Like going from closed to open questions, this gives the person you are asking the chance to recall the situation in more detail, but this time, the questioner gets important background information on the way to the final answer. Broad --> Specific. How did you find the meeting? What were the main things you discussed? what were their comments? Was the client happier with our proposal this time? Did you agree on the cost?


Know when to keep quiet, when to let someone pause and then speak again. This is when the really good stuff can emerge. Like with funnelling, this gives people the chance to think and to give further thoughts that they may have. If you really want to get some deeply considered thoughts from someone on their particular area of expertise this is a good technique to employ. Caution - be careful not to put the person under pressure, sometimes people might try and fill the silence with poorly thought out ideas or feel pressured to come up with more ideas, try to recognise if this is happening and put the person at ease!. Leading Questions - Leading questions can be a great way of getting people to agree with what you think, but if you don’t intend to lead someone, you can accidently influence their thoughts on a topic by asking a leading questions by mistake. And it is an easy mistake to make. For example, asking “how much do you think this investment will grow” subtly assumes that it will grow and the only question is by how much. If the person you ask misses the assumption then it is possible that they will give a biased, rather than a balanced answer.If you're looking for innovative, smart answers then you want to avoid leading questions wherever you can.


Pay attention to how you ask questions. You may be surprised by how often you phrase an instruction as a question or how many unintended leading questions you ask. The skill and art of asking questions is a subtle one and it is worth investing time in evaluating how you use questions and how you can ask better questions.

Thinkers on Asking Questions.

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Asking questions is a delicate art. Improving the way you ask questions can not only improve the answers you receive, but can encourage curiosity and creativity amongst those around you. Asking a good question could get you a really great answer!

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