Asking the Right Questions the Right Way

Posted by Paradigm Learning on July 25, 2014

Asking the Right Questions

I just read a blog in the Harvard Business Review Blog network called 5 Common Questions Leaders Should Never Ask. It is based on conversations with David Cooperrider, a professor at Case Western Reserve University and a pioneer of “Appreciative Inquiry” – an approach that focuses questioning on strengths and the use of positive language when working with other people.

The questions cited in the article are those that leaders shouldn’t ask.

They are:

  • What’s the problem?
  • Whose fault is it?
  • Why don’t you do it this way?
  • Haven’t we tried this already?
  • What’s our Ipad®? (In other words, why can’t we come up with some great new product like that?)

Although the first question is being hotly debated on the blog site – what’s the problem, many believe, is a legitimate and important question – the overall idea that leaders should avoid questions asked in a spirit of advocacy or blame and instead ask questions in the spirit of inquiry is widely accepted (although not always done very well!)

The blog made me think about the work we do with clients ( Discovery Mapsand other workforce alignment programs) to help them engage and educate their leaders and employees around major strategic change. Whether it’s a merger, new positioning of products or services, organizational restructuring, the introduction of new processes or systems, or any one of the other critical changes impacting companies today, one of the key techniques we use when designing alignment sessions is to develop questions that can be used in robust peer to peer discussions to drive understanding and commitment.

In our experience, good questions in these sessions need to…

  • Be authentic – true to real experiences and observations
  • Be purposeful in the context of the objectives of the session
  • Be non-leading and open-ended, but well-guided enoughto drive targeted discussions
  • Be written clearly and succinctly (and as briefly as possible)
  • Encourage higher levels of critical thinking and exploration
  • Give power and permission to the team to examine a variety of perspectives and ideas
  • Be challenging, but allow rich discussion achievable within time parameters
  • Stimulate positive emotional energy

Over the years, I’ve seen many poorly constructed questions used in educational settings that leave learners feeling manipulated, talked down to or bored.

Use of the right questioning techniques at the right time and in the right settings can engage today’s workforces in productive, authentic and positive discussions that help drive alignment and commitment around critical strategic imperatives.

I welcome your comments!

Topics: Leadership Development