The kinds of questions you ask can have a profound impact on your employee’s reactions, his or her willingness to share critical information, and his or her ability to be self-reliant and self-directed.
Following are tips on effective questioning.
Question rather than tell. It seems self-evident that effective questioning requires actually asking questions, yet the tendency to tell instead of ask is so strong, it bears repeating to yourself. Enter a conversation with a spirit of inquiry, rather than an agenda to communicate to the employee. Giving advice is only a last resort. Strive to have your employee build his/her understanding rather than having you to convey the message. When gathering information, use open-ended questions that ask what, how and when. Yes/no questions stifle conversation, e.g., “Did you speak with a member of your team about this issue?” What/How/When questions encourage the employee to give a more complete, more personal response, e.g., “What have you spoken about with any members of your team about this issue?”
When confirming your understanding, use closed questions. In direct contrast to information-gathering, confirmation of your understanding requires a closed, yes/no question. Asking whether you have heard your employee correctly will keep you from making faulty assumptions or judgments about a situation, and you need a clear yes/no response to a direct question.
Avoid leading (why) questions. Leading questions can bias the employee to respond in the way that he/she suspects you want to hear, rather than more openly and honestly. For example, “how did that make you feel” is preferable over “why did that make you angry.” Asking “why” too aggressively can also be interpreted as accusatory, discouraging any response at all.
Send the right signals. Be aware of how your body language and tone of voice can communicate your intent more clearly than your actual words. Just as you can interpret the body language of your employee to gauge feelings and reactions, so too will the employee be interpreting your own non-verbal communication.