How Questions Can Help Us Be Better Managers

This article was based on episode 142 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Get the full episode guide when you become a member at themodernmanager.com/join. Purchase full episode guides at themodernmanager.com/shop.


What’s the difference between a statement and a question? Besides the grammar, a question invites a response. That one little difference can be extremely powerful. To take advantage of this wonderful capability, managers must know what type of question to ask that will solicit a productive response. But that’s not all. How you engage in the entire question conversation will determine whether your questions have their intended impact.


WHY ASK QUESTIONS


Often questions are primarily used as a way to gather information. But, questions can do much more than that.


Questions help us build relationships.

When was the last time you enjoyed a conversation in which the other person didn’t ask you a single question? Asking questions helps us get to know someone and demonstrates interest in who they are and what they think.


Questions role model good leadership .

Instead of pretending they know everything, great managers ask questions to uncover new insights and gain new perspectives. The openness and curiosity displayed when asking questions role models that asking questions is a positive trait.


Questions help us all think bigger and better.

Some questions foster creativity and vision while other questions drill down into the details. Questions can spark new thinking or surface what would otherwise go unspoken.


Questions get a group onto the same page.

So often we make assumptions and fill in the blanks because we don’t take the time to simply ask what the person really means or why they think what they do. Good questions foster shared understanding and empathy.


Questions can help open minds and hearts.

Framing a statement as a question can reduce any potential tension and diminish someone’s natural defensive response. Instead of being directive, a question invites the other person to consider what you’ve laid out on the table.


HOW YOU ASK AND HOW YOU RESPOND ARE CRITICAL


Before you ask a question, check in with your emotional state. Asking questions when we’re frustrated or upset often leads us to use a tone or framing that stifles the other person’s response. Imagine how different the simple question “What are you up to?” can be interpreted based solely on the emotion conveyed. Is it accusatory? Curiosity? Playful?


The way we react to someone’s response is just as important. If we express disappointment, anger, or other negative emotions, the person may not feel comfortable sharing their honest thoughts in the future. While it takes practice to develop this aspect of emotional intelligence, it helps to prepare yourself to respond with a signal of gratitude on matter what the person says. This can be with words such as “thank you for sharing” or “you’ve given me a lot to think about,” or a gesture such as a thoughtful head nod that shows you’re thinking over what’s been said.


ASK THE RIGHT TYPE OF QUESTION


No more yes-no questions.

Yes-no and either/or questions often push people into a false choice, leaving no room for nuance. Instead, try replacing a yes-no question with a rating question. Instead of asking for a binary response, provide a scale of 1-5.


Here are a few examples of yes-no converted into a scale:

  • Do you have any questions? ---> How ready do you feel you are to take over this process?

  • Do you think this plan will work? ---> How confident are you in the plan as it currently stands?

  • Do you think we should add this feature to the product timeline? ---> How important do you think it is to add this feature to the product timeline?


Ratings questions naturally to follow up questions in which you can ask “why” or “tell me more.”


What, why, and how lead to different answers.

It seems that many of us, myself included, tend to prefer asking one form of question the most. Yet, asking what, why or how will surface different information. Just consider your response to each of these generic questions: What happened? Why did it happen? How did it happen?


When asking open ended questions, try to be conscious of what you’re asking for and whether you’ve asked the right question that will elicit a useful response.


Don’t forget to ask what if, why not, and how might.

When trying to remove the constraints of current reality or open someone to a new possibility, asking questions that start with “what if,” “why not,” and “how might” can make all the difference. These types of questions gently encourage people to consider ideas they may otherwise never have considered.


The most important thing when asking questions is simply to ask. By asking, we move the conversation one step forward. Each time we hear a response, we have another opportunity to ask another, even better question.


Get the full episode guide when you become a member of the Modern Manager community at themodernmanager.com/join. Or, purchase an individual episode guide at themodernmanager.com/shop to help you implement the learnings and continue to enhance your rockstar manager skills.


This article was based on episode 142 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.

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