We all know questions are an essential part of learning. Questions help managers to manage their direct reports. Good leaders ask great questions that move their people and organizations toward their goals. Questions can also direct existing leaders toward success and career growth. A leader might ask another leader about their mentors, memorable lessons, work routines and current challenges.
Below, MC has compiled tips for managers asking questions of direct reports as well as questions to ask leaders.
The Art Of Asking Questions
Questions leaders ask target certain outcomes. There is an art to asking questions that a good leader knows how to deploy. Good questions can help companies identify areas of risk and mitigate setbacks. Questions trigger innovation and collaboration. They also build empathy between employees and managers and within leadership teams.
Types of Questions
When considering what types of questions would be most apt to the circumstance, categorization is helpful to know about the different types of questions. Each question type can be used to elicit a certain type of information. Leaders select the appropriate question style for a given scenario. Here is a list of common categories of questions:
Closed or polar questions invite a “yes” or “no” response. They are easy to answer but do not encourage discussion and are most useful for introducing a discussion topic and/or getting a quick response.
Open questions are essential to generating discussion and can be used to diagnose interpersonal and organizational issues.
Leading questions encourage the respondent toward a positive or negative response. Common leading questions for managers might include: Did you enjoy working on that project? What are possible obstacles to the successful completion of this project? Managers should use leading questions sparingly since employees will recognize them and may be disinclined to engage in genuine discussion.
Rhetorical questions are asked to encourage thought and do not require a response. Motivational speakers and coaches use these questions to move an audience toward agreement and a certain line of thinking. They make a conversation more engaging than a simple statement. Like leading questions, they should be used somewhat sparingly. Repeated or stacked rhetorical questions will undermine their effectiveness.
Clarifying questions seek to eliminate or prevent misunderstanding and ambiguity. A person uses these questions to obtain additional information. A good clarifying question is: What resources were used in this project?
Motivation & Values Questions
These questions seek to understand what gets a person out of bed every morning. Differences in values influence an individual’s motivations. Leaders ask these questions to create an environment where employees function superiorly.
These questions are asked at the beginning of a conversation to build a connection with the other person.
Application questions are used to see how a tool can be applied to a specific business scenario.
Analysis questions are a type of open-ended question that encourages critical thinking about what is being asked. These questions can trigger innovative thinking and new solutions to existing problems.
Synthesis questions ask the listener to draw together a mass of information, consider it, and generate a conclusion.
Evaluation questions seek to measure a program, employee, or client against a framework or set evaluation system.
These questions attempt to make a person think in a new way about a situation and can add a comic element to an otherwise sober situation. They are meant to surprise a person into thinking about an issue from a new angle and also may make the existing problem appear less severe. Examples include: What would have to happen to make you even more unhappy with your job?
Employee Engagement Questions
Why are questions an important part of managing employees? In a management context, questions should be used to better understand the employee and make them feel empowered and seen.
Open Questions can target employee engagement. Effective employee engagement questions include:
- What do you enjoy most/least about your company?
- What can the company do better to improve things?
- Is there anything preventing you from doing your job well?
- How would you characterize communication within your team?
- What changes have you seen since we last conducted a survey?
Questions leaders should ask to help people gain clarity their goals include:
- What do you want to achieve in this discussion?
- What would you like to accomplish in the next 6/12 months?
Other powerful coaching questions for leaders include:
- What results are you trying to achieve?
- What do you really want (in your current role/next job/career)?
- What outcome would be ideal?
- What has contributed to your success so far?
- What have you already tried?
- Do you know other people who have achieved this goal?
- What is the hardest/most challenging part of this for you?
Often these questions can be structured in a GROW model format. The GROW acronym stands for Goal, Current Reality, Options, Will (or Way Forward).
Questions leaders should ask will move their team and organization forward. When asking these questions, as with any question, tone, context, intonation, and body language play into the way the questions are received and interpreted. Good leaders ask great questions so if you are in a position of leadership it is always a good time to hone your ability to ask insightful questions.
- Mental Models: What Are They?
- Emotional Intelligence in Business
- Interpersonal Communication: What Is It?
- The Pyramid Principle; Applied