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“Always the beautiful answer
who asks a more beautiful question.”
Not everyone knows how to ask good questions.
While it seems an easy enough concept, asking good questions is a craft that takes time and effort to perfect. You’ve probably asked the wrong question from time to time. That’s okay — you’re here to learn now.
Once you master this art, you’ll have a powerful tool available. Asking the right questions is crucial for good conversation flow and efficiency.
What’s a good question?
You might think that a good question returns the correct answer the first time you ask. That's true if you're asking for directions to the highway or how to take your new prescription.
Rather than asking the same thing multiple times in multiple ways, a good question gets right to the point. They’re concise, descriptive, but not too wordy. When you ask a good question, the person that you're talking to understands exactly what you mean.
Sometimes you need this type of question when talking to other team members. Clear questions can clarify deadlines and uncover who is responsible or what vendor has already been signed.
Good questions avoid confusion.
A great question, on the other hand, returns more information. If you ask a great question, you gain valuable insight that helps you understand a problem better or see an opportunity that you weren't aware of before.
Great questions allow the conversation to flow with ease. They aren't always fast although they can be efficient. Have you ever been around someone who somehow always got right to the hidden heart of the matter even when talking to strangers? You don't get that through looking for yes/no answers.
To understand what makes a great question, it helps to know the different types of questions:
- Open-ended questions leave room for more discussion and demand more explanation.
- Follow-up questions let you pursue your topic and expand your conversation.
- Leading questions prompt a specific response and steer a conversation in a new direction.
There isn’t a universal formula to asking great questions because it depends on the question asker and the context.
What makes you a good question asker?
It doesn’t matter what type of question you’re asking if it leads to information that you need. To do that, you need to know what type of information you’re looking for and who is the best person to ask. A good questioner is curious above all.
A good questioner knows that it’s all in the preparation. Be intentional. Choose your words with purpose and make sure you’re asking at an appropriate time. Before you launch into asking your question, think carefully.
Are you looking for data or an opinion? How formal or informal do you have to be when you pose your question? Are you looking for confirmation or insight, answers or exploration? Do you know what you’re going to find out, or will the information be surprising?
A critical characteristic of a good question asker is their courage. Sometimes people don’t ask questions because they’re afraid of what others may think of them. It can be nerve-wracking to stand up and use your voice to ask tough questions. Even if the question ruffles some feathers, you must ask the right questions to gain clarity.
Asking great questions is a skill that takes time and practice. If you’re looking for help with learning the art of asking questions, check out what our coaches at BetterUp can do. We’re ready and here to help you succeed with your goals.
How can you start asking better questions?
Asking the right questions can improve both your personal and professional life. Being able to communicate effectively is vital for all sorts of relationships. Learning what questions to ask can improve how you work with your team members, leadership skills, and more minor, everyday things.
Here are nine tips on how you can start asking better questions:
1. Be a good listener
When someone gives you an answer or explains something to you, pay attention.
If you don’t listen properly, you may find yourself asking already answered questions. By focusing on listening, you’ll avoid asking general questions that you should probably know the answer to.
When someone else is speaking, make eye contact and nod as you understand the things they say to stay engaged.
2. Don’t be afraid of your questions
If you’re confused about something, you have every right to ask for some clarity. Maybe it’s your first time trying a new recipe or doing a task. Wrong questions don’t exist — especially if you’ve never done this before. Think about it this way: if you don’t ask your question, you may make some easily avoidable mistakes.
3. Do your research
Do you fully understand what you’re asking and why? It may seem redundant, but make sure you know what you’re asking. Focus on what you’re confused about.
If your question is too vague and confusing, you won’t get the type of answer you need. People can’t answer questions properly if you don’t set them up to succeed. Dive into your subject, and don’t be afraid to go beyond a surface-level question.
4. Go where the conversation takes you
Everyone can get off topic sometimes, but that’s not always a bad thing. The conversation can flow in many different directions before or after your question is answered. Rather than panic and think you have to be as straightforward as possible, see where the conversation goes.
You may find that the conversation prompts follow-up questions. Or, questions you planned to ask may be answered without you even voicing them. Try to be relaxed, and don’t think that every question-asking instance has to be formal.
5. Use silence to your advantage
Question asking isn’t supposed to be a fast-paced conversation. Pausing to listen between answers gives you time to think about what was said and ask better follow-up questions.
Don’t feel pressured to respond quickly. Fast responses can mess with the conversation’s flow. You don’t want to feel rushed or rush others, so learn to get comfortable with silence and give yourself time to think.
6. Avoid leading questions
A leading question already assumes an answer. People who ask leading questions sometimes want to confirm that they already know the answer. While it’s harmless in some situations, it doesn’t leave room for different responses.
Try not to lead someone to a specific answer if their opinion could be valuable. Keep your question clear, simple, and when you can, without your personal bias.
7. Keep your questions short
A long-winded question shows a lack of self-awareness. It can end up confusing someone more than it should. You want to provide enough details in your query that summarizes what you’re looking for in response, but nothing overwhelming.
The person you’re asking should only have to hear your question once, not three or four times. Focusing on asking open-ended questions in one sentence can still set up a good conversation.
8. Get your sequence right
If you’re having a long conversation with lots to cover, put some thought into the order of your questions. Have empathy for the other party. Not everyone can open up right away and answer personal questions with ease. That’s why you should know how much trust you have with the person and keep their feelings in mind.
You might not want to start with sensitive or tough questions. Start by asking basic, easy questions before getting into emotional ones.
9. Use the appropriate tone
Questions have different purposes and meanings behind them. Some are serious, while others are light-hearted and fun. It’s important to know when you must have a professional, serious tone and when you can be casual.
Being flexible and adjusting your style is key. Being overly formal in every situation can make people uncomfortable and inhibit their willingness to share information. When you ask your next question, take note of the vibes in the room or with the person you’re talking to.
Ready to be an expert question asker? At BetterUp, we’re all about helping people reach their goals. Learn more about what our individual coaching plans can do for you on our website.
Content Marketing Manager, ACC