Why Questions are important

My friend recently shared a story. She had gone to the grocery store to buy some bread. She asked the store attendant, and he placed a loaf of bread in front of her. He then asked her, “And, what else?”.  Though she had not planned to buy many things, she came back with a bag of groceries.

All of us have had similar experiences when we visit small stores. The store attendant used a question as a sales pitch.

Questioning is the oldest method of interaction with others. Whether you are a teacher, a student, an employee, or a trainer, your best means of connecting with people is by asking questions. Without questions, interpersonal communication can fail.

The earliest method of questioning was formulated by the Greek philosopher, Socrates.

He listed six levels in questioning:

  1. Clarifying concepts. …
  2. Probing assumptions. … why do we believe this?
  3. Probing rationale, reasons, and evidence. … How do I know? What don’t I see?
  4. Questioning viewpoints and perspectives. … who is saying it? Have we considered all aspects?
  5. Probing implications and consequences. … What else? What if this were not correct?
  6. Questioning the question… Is this question correct and based on facts?

Collaboration is more effective if questions are used. Questions make the dialogue more open and this paves the way for better collaboration. When you work as a team and require the support of one another, questions come across as more polite than statements. “Could you send me the data by 5 pm?” is more polite than “Please send the data by 5 pm”.

Suggestions also come across better as questions. ‘Would you like to add something? What do you feel about this? Etc” are accepted better as they are not confrontational.

In Business Communication, questions are a powerful way of not just learning but also:

  • Relationship building: people generally respond positively if you ask about what they do or enquire about their opinions. If you do this in an affirmative way (Do tell me what you like/dislike about this job.) you will help to build and maintain an open dialogue.
  • Managing and coaching:  Questions help get people to reflect and to commit to courses of action that has been suggested: “Wouldn’t it be great if we could….?
  • Avoiding misunderstandings: We can use probing questions to seek clarification, particularly when the consequences are significant. Here one question leads to another. And we can make sure that jumping to conclusions is avoided.
  • De-fusing a heated situation: you can calm an angry customer or colleague by using questions to get them to go into more detail about their grievance. “I understand. What happened? Can you tell me more details?”

This will often help you to identify a small practical thing that you can do.

  • Persuading people: no one likes to be lectured but asking a series of open questions will help others to embrace the reasons behind your point of view. “What do you think about this? Can I share my reasons with you?”

According to Warren Berger, the author of “A More beautiful question” and “A Book of beautiful questions”, the three most important questions are for any innovation in Business are, WHY, WHAT IF, and HOW.

In 1943, Edward Land, was asked by his three-year-old daughter why she could not see a photograph as soon as it was taken. This led to the question, “What if we could have a dark room inside the camera? Land thought of how this could be done and invented the polaroid camera.

 Innovation is generally based on these three questions. They create an environment that demands a clear purpose, a vision for the future and an appetite for change.

Questions such as these help in identifying the problem, brainstorming, and creating an effective solution.

The Right Question institute (RQI) talks of question storming for effective resolution of problems. Very often people are not able to generate ideas to tackle a problem. However, you could ask them to write down questions regarding the problem. This is much easier.

An example

You have been approached by a company to create and conduct a program for their Customer service executives. They would like you to conduct a diagnostic test and ascertain the level of the participants. They are open to the duration and timing. However, they would like to the progress of the participants mapped.

As a Business Communication trainer what are the questions you will ask to create an effective program?

Some of the questions are

Questions for the company HR/ Project manager

What is the purpose of this training? Who is the audience? What is their experience level?

What exactly do you wish to achieve from this program? What is it the participants already know?

Do you feel that the participants are willing to be tested? Can we think of mapping their progress without a test?

Questions for the participants

What is it that you are familiar with? What is it you would like to know?

 What are the questions you need to ask yourself?

How can I match the needs of the participants with that of the company?

How can I find out these needs without making the participants feel that they are being tested?

A question for the reader…….

Can you share your questions on this topic?

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