Are You Asking the Right Questions?

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Welcome to my series of podcasts that will help you to navigate the issues that you’ll inevitably come up against as a business owner. 

Today, I want to talk about how to ask the right questions. 

You’re a busy business owner and when you need to get things done or make a decision, you want the right information in front of you, the quicker the better. But are you asking the right questions to get the information you need? 

When you want to know something, do you ask questions in a way that assumes your presumptions are right? Do you ask questions that are too vague, too complicated, or lead your employees to a particular answer?

Well, the quality of the information you receive will depend on the questions you ask, and the right types of questions will encourage employees to contribute ideas and build trust while asking the wrong questions can cause defensiveness or mistrust. 

So, how do you ask effective questions and get the information you need to know?

Start by making your intentions clear. Let employees know why you’re asking the question. Is it for reassurance that everything’s going smoothly, or do you really want to know everything, even the not-so-good bits?

Next, if you really want a better answer, your best bet is to keep your questions open-ended. Open-ended questions need to be answered in more detail, and they show that you’re interested in those details and how things are going. 

If you’re trying to keep open-ended questions truly open, avoid making a statement followed by a question.

For example, if you say ‘well that new process didn’t work, what should we do?,’ you’re assuming that your employees will agree that the process didn’t work and because you’ve already stated it didn’t, they’ll assume your mind is closed to whatever they have to say. Instead, you could say something like, ‘It looks like we might need to make a few changes to this process. What do you think we can do better?.’ This will be more likely to encourage employees to think and put their ideas forward. 

Remember that the goal is to encourage others to be more forthcoming with information.

Another way to do this is to ask ‘why’ and ‘how’ type questions. These types of questions will tell employees that you want to know what they think or know in detail. But take care not to use these questions in the wrong way, like ‘how on earth did that happen?!’ This is an emotional reaction, and even though you are only human, reacting in this way will just keep you stuck focusing on the problem rather than the solution. 

As business owners, we do want answers, and we do want certainty, but sometimes, we have to be prepared for the fact that we don’t always get what we want. Do you want to know if your employee will have that report on your desk by the end of the day? If you ask ‘will I have the report on my desk by the end of today?’ it might result in a yes or no answer, which is not enough information. But if you ask, how’s the report coming on? Will I have it by the end of the day?,’ you’ll get a yes or no, and more details, because the question has invited it. 

So moving on from how to ask the right questions, I want to talk about how to ask questions in the wrong way. 

Well firstly, don’t ask questions that assume an answer, like ‘don’t you think we should scrap that idea?’ This shows people that you have already made up your mind and believe that you’re right, and they probably won’t disagree with you. A better way of asking would be, ‘how can we make the idea work for us?’ This is opening up a discussion and encouraging people to contribute their ideas which will ultimately give you more options. 

The next point is to avoid ‘either/or’ questions. Following on from the last example, you might say, ‘Should we scrap that idea completely or run with it?’ Your employees will probably choose from either of these options when another solution you hadn’t thought of might be a far better option. A better way to ask a question would be ‘I’m on the fence about this idea, what do you think we should do?’ This encourages people to think and come up with a more creative solution. 

Lastly, your employees might think you have all the answers, but the truth is, you don’t. That’s why you’re asking questions! But don’t let pride get in the way of asking for clarification if you don’t understand the information you’ve been given. Instead of pretending you understand something when you don’t, why not just be honest and say you don’t? Your employees might even start seeing you as a human being!

Do you need help with business or employee issues?

I help company Directors just like you to feel confident in their team and content with the way their business and their team runs every day. My goal is to create a less frazzled life for you by offering you and your team mentoring and workshops tailored completely to your needs. 

Book a call to find out how I can help you.

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