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Why Asking the Right Questions Trumps Having the Right Answers

You want good, useful information from your people. To get it, perfect the art of asking the right questions.


Knowing the right questions to ask is better than having all the right answers.  Or as Decouvertes put it, "It is not the answer that enlightens, but the question."

So, the fastest way to change the answers you receive--from yourself and your team--is to change the questions you ask. Consider the possible responses to questions like these:

  • What happens if I fail at this?
  • How will I deal with this problem employee?
  • How can I get through this situation?
  • How will I ever be able to pay for that new (fill in the blank) we need?

On the other hand, think about the responses that positive, more empowering questions  yield:

  • What's the best way for me to be successful at this?
  • How can I support the success of this employee?
  • How can I make the most of this situation?
  • What are the options I need to consider in order to buy the (fill in the blank) we need?

The questions you ask either limit or expand the possible responses you get. Additionally, your choice of words will also dictate how involved, receptive and motivated the recipient will feel.

For example, in the heat of a month-end deadline, you might ask your sales manager, "Why are we falling short of this month's sales goal?"  Your sales manager naturally feels defensive, put on the spot, flustered and possibly unable to respond to your satisfaction. An alternative question could be, "What do you think we can do to ensure we meet our sales goal?" Now, your sales manager feels involved in the solution (vs. being accused of the problem), receptive to brainstorming alternatives and supported by you. In short, she feels motivated to meet the goal.

The power of the answers you receive is directly proportionate to the power of the questions you ask. Consider how the questions you ask, both at work and at home, elicit certain responses.

Start by asking yourself, "How can I ask questions to get the best from myself and others?"

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Last updated: Jul 16, 2014

LEE COLAN | Columnist

Lee Colan is founder of the L Group, a consulting firm that equips and inspires leaders at every level. He is a leadership adviser, presenter of practical ideas, and a Thinkers 50 nominee for Top Management Thinker.

The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of

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