Questioning Techniques: How to Get the Answers You Need
It doesn’t cost anything to ask questions – we learn this at an early age. The idea is that curiosity is one of the most important prerequisites for learning, and the right question and the right time has helped many to make real progress in life. And even if the answer is not what we had hoped, we at least tried and didn’t lose anything in asking.
It’s not just children discovering their environment or young professionals familiarizing themselves with the world of work who benefit from asking questions. Long-serving employees also have questions whenever they take on a new area of responsibility. What’s more, managers also have to ask certain questions when they want to find out if their employees are satisfied or whether there’s room for improvement in the company. By employing the right question methods, you can influence conversations to obtain the answers that help you make progress.
Questioning Techniques: Definition and Classification
Questions based on genuine interest are a key requirement for respectful communication in which both sides can ideally learn from one another. In the world of work, they are also an effective tool for achieving certain goals or results. Employees who consistently ask for professional training show commitment and are more likely to be considered for these kinds of training programs as well as promotions. The moderator of a meeting may encourage participants to think creatively with targeted questions and generate interesting discussions – thereby not only making the meeting more effective, but also enabling solutions that satisfy everyone.
Like in all areas of professional communication, the wording, timing, and intention are critical when it comes to questions. A range of questioning techniques are therefore available that are suitable for different situations.
Questioning techniques: Specific questions that are intended to generate a desired response in a conversation partner or an entire group of listeners. These techniques can be used both to better assess a situation as well as to promote discussion and generate ideas.
A distinction in questions that you may have learned at school is the difference between open and closed questions. While open questions ideally stimulate contemplation and lead to an active exchange of views, closed questions predetermine the possible answers, are primarily intended for checking knowledge, and can be answered with a word (yes/no questions) or a short sentence. For this reason, open questions should be asked during presentations – where possible – in order to encourage audience members to participate. This technique can also be useful in professional meetings. However, if you want to avoid unnecessary discussion and achieve results quickly, closed questions are more appropriate.
Question Methods for Professional Life
Open and closed questions merely represent the two overarching concepts for a whole host of questioning techniques that you can use at work. Which method is most promising for you is largely determined by the situation. After all, depending on whether it’s an annual appraisal meeting between a boss and employee or a project meeting with coworkers, different questioning techniques are best suited for the different goals pursued. While an appraisal meeting benefits from a trusting and calm atmosphere, encouraging participants to engage in lively discussion and provide solution-oriented ideas is more important when it comes to moderating techniques.
In practice, it’s best when you don’t restrict yourself to just a single pre-selected method, but instead combine different variants with each other. This enables you to respond flexibly during a discussion.
In the following paragraphs, we explain which question methods are ideally suited to which conversation situations. All the question types listed below can be formulated as both open and closed questions. When opting for a particular variant, you should also consider the mood of the conversation participants and how much time you have for the conversation.
The opening question helps create a good foundation for the conversation and should therefore be open and positive. For example, during an appraisal meeting you could ask which situations the employee found especially positive and which achievements they are proud of.
In the case of meetings, prioritizing the agenda items can be a good start. Ask the participants which topics are particularly important to them and include these agenda items in the conversation accordingly. This way, everyone will feel like they’re being taken seriously and a constructive working atmosphere will be created.
By asking hypothetical questions, you prompt your conversation partner to imagine a situation outside the (current) reality. This questioning technique is especially good as a starting point for brainstorming when looking for solutions to certain problems or tasks. For example, if you ask: “How would you perform the task if you had unlimited time for it?” or “How would you design the advertising campaign if you didn’t have to consider the client’s wishes?”, you get your conversation partner to think about a topic from a new perspective and move away from familiar thought patterns. This provides the best conditions for innovative ideas.
Circular questions involve having the interviewee assess their options or behavior not from their own position but from a different perspective. They are intended to create critical distance from your own position. This can be achieved by asking questions like: “Which solution would you prefer as a representative of department X?” or “If you were an investor, would you be convinced that this will be a successful idea?”
These questions allow you to break up entrenched discussion situations and, ideally, motivate stubborn sticklers for principles to accept compromises.
Paradoxical questions can provide interesting and entertaining thought experiments. Here, you turn the actual issue on its head and formulate the question as follows for example: “What would we need to do to make sure that we don’t deliver the project on time?” or “What would have to happen for you to quit your job?”
The answers reveal which factors bother the conversation partners the most and what the most important elements are that have to be worked on in order to optimize projects or daily processes.
Follow-up or Justification Questions
Don’t leave answers to stand without commenting on them; ask for more in-depth explanations or justifications. These follow-up questions allow you to indicate interest and also encourage your conversation partner to reflect on their previous statements, explain their position more precisely or revise it if necessary.
Especially in one-on-one conversations like the annual appraisal meeting or salary negotiations, it’s important to create a trusting atmosphere. Emotional questions like “What developments are giving you cause for concern?” as well as “How do you feel in your new position?” are therefore appropriate.
After discussing ideas and suggestions for improvement, actions also need to follow what has been said. This is where future questions like “Who will take care of implementing this idea?” or “By what date can we complete project X?” come in. Only then can long meetings also result in actual actions or results that can be recorded in the minutes.
Likewise, solution questions also aim to facilitate tangible results. They are also an effective tool for finishing never-ending, circular discussions.
“We’ve discussed what isn’t working well in some detail, but what could we now improve specifically?” These kinds of questions allow you to move meeting participants from complaint mode into a problem-solving frame, enabling you to then discuss possible solutions.
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