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Dos and Don’ts of Asking Effective Questions

Posted on by CATALYSIS

Asking effective questions is foundational to creating the conditions for better critical thinking and learning. This is an important part of a leader’s role within an organization striving for Organizational Excellence.  Many effective questions are often referred to as Humble Inquiry questions.  Introduced by Dr. Edgar Schein, Humble Inquiry is the practice of asking open-ended questions to show genuine respect, improve active listening, and offer curiosity about another’s thinking.

Here are some things to remember as you practice asking effective questions.

Dos:

  • Stick to questions for which you truly do not know the answer – Asking questions for which you do not know the answer demonstrates humility and supports the thinking of the other
  • Ask questions that begin with “how” and “what” – Sometimes people struggle to think of open-ended questions. Try starting your questions with “how” or “what” if you are feeling stuck. These questions can support thinking, initiate dialogue, and feel Sometimes questions beginning with “who” or “why” can unintentionally come across as somewhat accusatory and be disruptive to thinking.
  • Practice active listening – Practicing active listening will help you to ask more effective questions. As mentioned in a recent blog post, A Checklist for Active Listening, active listening involves giving the speaker your undivided attention and utilizing all of your senses to gather information. When you are listening in this way, and not just waiting to talk, you can develop better questions.

Don’ts:

  • Avoid asking closed-ended questions – Closed-ended questions are those that require a single word answer – typically a “Yes” or “No.” They do not tend to support thinking and often people answer them automatically without much thought.
  • Resist the urge to ask leading questions – It is easy to fall into the habit of asking leading questions. You may think you know how to solve the problem based on your previous experiences or you want your idea to be heard. While this is human nature, it is not a good practice for supporting others with their
  • Stop making assumptions – As humans, we also tend to make assumptions and jump to conclusions. Be careful not to make assumptions. Always ask the question. Making assumptions can close our minds and unintentionally lead to the wrong conclusions.

Remember that the purpose of asking effective questions is to act in service to the person on the other end of the question. You are trying to support them with deepening their thinking and developing their problem-solving skills. Asking effective questions supports both the social and technical components of problem-solving thinking and leadership. Developing this skill takes practice, so you will need to create a practice plan for yourself, be patient, and stick with it.

What are ways you can begin to practice asking more effective questions?

 

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