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The art of asking effective questions

4 min read


A wise man said there are three kinds of questions: Ones that show how smart you are, ones that show how dumb they are, and ones that seek information. I think there are a few more kinds than that. But it’s valid to be aware of how others feel about our questions.

So let’s look at the purposes behind questions. When you understand the motivation and desire behind the questions, you frame them to get the answers you seek.

Different kinds of questions produce different kinds of answers. You may be asking the wrong questions for the information you want. This may lead to frustration, co-worker tensions, and poor results.

On the other hand, mastering the art of effective questions will help you rise to the top. Here are the 5 different types of questions to get the results you want.

  1. Informational questions
  2. Analyzing questions
  3. Exploratory questions
  4. Consensus questions
  5. Attacking questions
  6. Condescending questions

Informational questions. When you want fact, details, or answers from research, you’ll ask informational questions. They may sound like:

  • Where are the documents?
  • What does the report say?
  • What proof have you found?

Analyzing questions. Once you’ve gathered the facts, you want to review the implications. You want to understand the meaning of the information you have. Your open ended questions focus on processing and understanding the information. You might ask:

  • What do you learn from this information?
  • What avenues or directions might be open because of what we know?

Exploratory questions. These questions give you a chance to look at possibilities. As a result of what you now know, can discover the choices available and determine which one might be the best option. You might ask:

  • What will happen if…?
  • Why do you think we should…?
  • What will be the outcome when…?
  • What are the alternatives?

Consensus questions. As the discussion progresses, the time comes to pull the information together and make a decision. These questions seek to get uniformity of opinion or agreement.

  • Do we have enough information to form a decision?
  • What will it take for us to agree and move forward?
  • How will we need to handle this for us to feel good about this decision?

All of these kinds of questions give you the answers to help your team work together in harmony and solve problems. However not all questions are helpful. Some damage your team and reduce response.

Attacking questions. While you may not think so, some questions inherently put the other person on the defensive. They build resentment and reduce productivity. Persistent questions like this may cause higher employee turnover.

  • Why didn’t you…?
  • Don’t you know…?
  • What made you think…?

Condescending questions. These questions are intended to show how smart the questioner is and how dumb the receiver is. They are put-downs disguised as “well-meaning” questions.

  • What, you didn’t know…?
  • Where were you when…?
  • Did you really think…?

When you master skillful questions you will gain information and guide the discussion in a positive way. When you weed out negative questions you build trust and community within your team. The art of effective questions can add to your insight, problem-solving and strength as a leader.

Joel Garfinkle is available for speaking and training. He is recognized as one of the top 50 coaches in the U.S., having worked with many of the world’s leading companies, including Oracle, Google, Amazon, Deloitte, The Ritz-Carlton, Gap and Starbucks. He is the author of 300 articles on leadership and nine books, including “Getting Ahead: Three Steps to Take Your Career to the Next Level.” More than 10,000 people subscribe to his Fulfillment@Work newsletter. If you sign up, you’ll receive the free e-book “41 Proven Strategies to Get Promoted Now!” His website has over 200 free articles on leadership, work issues and career advancement.

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