How to Quit Asking the Bad Questions and Start Asking Great Questions

“The art and science of asking questions is the source of all knowledge.”- Thomas Berger

I thought I had the answer. Still, I wanted to be sure, so I asked a key employee.
“I’m thinking of moving two crews to a different shift rotation to get a better process flow,” I said. “I’ve run the numbers, and overall productivity should go up by at least 10%. What do you think?”
He thought for a minute. “I suppose it could work,” he said.
“I think so, too,” I said. So I moved them.

My new shift rotation worked on paper. It even worked in practice. But it screwed up the personal lives of a bunch of great employees. (Luckily, I pulled my head out of my butt, shifted everyone back to their old rotations, and found different ways to increase productivity.)
So what happened? I asked the wrong question.
We all do it. We ask leading questions. Or we ask limiting questions. Or we ask questions that assume a certain answer. (Shoot, sometimes we don’t even listen to the answers — we’re too busy presuming we’re right.)
Here are some ways people ask questions the wrong way — and how you can ask the right way:
1. Lead the Witness
Asking a question that assumes a particular answer is easy to do when you already think you’re right and just want people to say you’re right.

  • “Don’t you think we should go ahead and release that order?”
  • “Do you think we should wait any longer than we already have?”
  • “Can anyone think of a good reason not to discipline Joe?”

Each question assumes an answer: You clearly think you should release the order, stop waiting, and write Joe up. Though a few people may disagree, most won’t–the answer you want to hear is obvious.
A better way:

  • “What do you think we should do about that order?”
  • “Programming isn’t complete yet. What do you think we should do?”
  • “What do you think is the best way to deal with Joe’s situation?”

Each is objective, direct, and does not include an answer in the question. And each also leaves room for a variety of options, which won’t happen when…
2. Stick to Either/Or Questions
You have a quality problem and have thought of two possible solutions. There are positives and negatives to both. So you seek input from a team member. “Should we just scrap everything and rework the whole job,” you ask, “or should we ship everything and hope the customer doesn’t notice?”
Most people will pick one answer or the other. But what if there’s a better option you haven’t considered?
A better way: “There are defects throughout the whole order. What do you think we should do?”
Maybe she’ll say scrap it. Maybe she’ll say ship and hope.
Or maybe she’ll say, “What if we tell the customer up front there is a problem, ship everything to them, and take a crew to their warehouse to sort product. That reduces the impact on the customer. They can use whatever is good and won’t have to wait for the entire job to be re-run.”
Either/or questions, just like leading questions, assume some answer. Instead of sharing options, just state the problem. Then ask “What do you think?” Or “What would you do?” Or “How should we handle this?”
And then shut up and let people think. Don’t rush to fill the silence.


Read the rest of this article by Jeff Haden on LinkedIn Pulse to learn about “How to Quit Asking the Bad Questions and Start Asking Great Questions” here:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s