Questioning Skills

by Steve Roche

An approach to questioning

Initial attitude

Whatever the reason for your questions – to influence, to research, to challenge – it helps to start off with the right attitude.

You cannot be a good questioner without good Listening Skills. You need to show respect for the other person, especially if you want a genuine answer. This means accepting that they may disagree with you (allowing them to be more than just a ‘yes man’).

Skilled questioners typically come across as attentive, interested, and non-judgemental. They take the time and trouble to establish rapport by

  • helping the other person to feel comfortable and at ease
  • pacing their current state (for example, reflecting their posture, language or degree of animation)
  • creating a feeling of trust and safety (for example, by creating boundaries around confidentiality).

Look at the topic on Rapport for more on this essential skill

Any question (and the way in which you ask it) also contains an unspoken statement about you:

  • I know what you’re going to say...
  • I don’t have time for this...
  • I’m looking for a win/win solution to this situation...
  • I’m really interested in hearing your opinion on this...
  • I haven’t listened to a word you’ve said so far...
  • I respect you...
  • You bore me...

How do you know?

What evidence can you draw on to know whether you are questioning well? One option is just to ask:

‘Did you find my questions helpful?

And in what way, specifically?

If not, why not?’

You may get some useful feedback about what you are doing well and what you can improve. For example, you may have distracting physical habits (expressions, gestures, level of eye contact) that you are unaware of. These could give the other person the impression that you are bored, impatient or disapproving, even if that is not actually what you are feeling.

Checklist

Here are some common reasons for people not questioning as effectively as they could. Tick all those of which you know you have been guilty.

I do not ask questions well because I am...

  1. Not establishing sufficient rapport
  2. Interrupting too often
  3. Interrogating
  4. Not listening properly to the answer
  5. Not making sure I understand the answer
  6. Only asking the question in order to get them to ask me the same question
  7. Asking the wrong type of question (for example, closed when I want an open answer)
  8. Asking leading questions
  9. Always asking the same type of question
  10. Failing to challenge restricted thinking
  11. Challenging inappropriately
  12. Making internal judgements
  13. Showing impatience or frustration
  14. Thinking about something else while they are speaking
  15. Thinking that I know what they are going to say before they say it
  16. Getting bored and switching off
  17. Talking over the other person
  18. Wanting to speed things up by talking about something else.
Exercise

How good a questioner are you? Click here

Think about your scores against each of the statements in the questionnaire, and write down

  • What you need to start doing to become a more effective questioner
  • What you need to continue doing to be an effective questioner
  • What you need to stop doing to become a more effective questioner.