How to ask questions for understanding  not confirmation is important. I’ve attended meetings, seminars, and lectures — observed interviews, corrective actions, and employee evaluations — watched video interviews, webinars, and listened to podcasts — and time and time again, I’ve heard poorly constructed questions with little thought put into them. Too often, questions are asked as if how the question is framed matters little. How a question is asked matters. How do you ask questions? 

For example, I’ve observed employment interviews in which I had no idea what the candidate thought because the interviewer asked mostly leading questions. I knew what the interviewer thought, but not the candidate.

Leading questions use, “don’t you?” “wouldn’t you?” “do you?” etc.

Q: “I see you build widgets. You like building widgets then, don’t you?”

A: “Yes”

Q: “You worked at ABC Widgets — it’s a good place to work, isn’t it?”

A: “Yes”

Q: “You worked there for two years; you’re not afraid of hard work, are you?”

A: “No”

Q: “You like my hair; don’t you?”

A: “I guess”.

In the examples above, the questions all lead the candidate to an answer the interviewer wants, not what the candidate thinks. How would you re-form these questions to learn what the candidate thinks?

  1. Tell what it’s like building widgets.  
  2. What’s it like working at ABC?
  3. Can you give me an example of what you considered hard work at ABC?
  4. What do you think of my hair?  

Have you ever observed an interview in which the interviewee gave short, unresponsive answers? It’s pretty dull, isn’t it? Were the questions OR the answers boring?

“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.” — — How Smart People Ask Great Questions (and Get Better Answers)

Closed-ended questions ask for a “yes” or “no” answer, not a response.

Q: “I heard you and your co-star were romantically involved; is this true?”

A: “No”

Q: “Did you know there were rumors?”

A:” Yes”

Q: “Have you read the articles?”

A: “No”

Q: “So you deny the accusations?”

A: “Yes”

Open-ended questions include what, why, and how.

Open-ended questions solicit a response. If you want to allow someone to share their thoughts — ask open-ended questions.

  • What happened between you and your co-star?
  • Why all the rumors?
  • What do you think about the articles?
  • What would you say to your accusers?

Most questions can be re-formed into an open-ended question by adding:

  • What do you think?
  • How do you feel?
  • What are your opinions, beliefs, etc.?

How to ask Questions for Understanding

Are you asking questions for understanding or confirmation? If you want to know what someone is thinking, ask a question that solicits a full response. What type of question should you ask? Next time, before you ask a question, ask yourself — why am I asking this question? What do I want to learn, know, or understand? How should I ask the question?

How Can I Help You?

I like to help people and organizations, but I have three criteria I consider before taking an assignment – I believe in what the organization stands for, I know I can help, and it looks like fun. If you have any questions, Contact Me. 

So, does your business have a management training plan? Because, if not, many organizations, large and small, use my book, The New Manager’s Workbook a crash course in effective management, as the basis for their leadership development program. Check it out. It might help you stop putting off what you want to do.

Photo by Felicia Buitenwerf on Unsplash