Lawyers and Journalist pride themselves on the ability to be able to ask the right questions; whether it is the testimony of somebody in the courtroom or the next breaking story. However within both of these situations it’s not always about the truth or doing what’s right for the person being questioned. In fact the person “in the firing line” is often but a mere pawn in a bigger game in the primary pursuit of somebody else’s agenda. So who is supposed to be the real beneficiary of questioning?
When we think about questioning in the context of business or leadership there is often much skepticism as to what’s really going on. There are also many different ways that questions can be asked that feeds this skepticism. Let’s consider a few different ways leadership abilities can be enhanced by the simple yet very effective use of appropriate questioning. There are three different levels.
Level 1 – Closed Ended
This is the question that does not solicit much discussion and often can be met with some defensiveness due to its sometimes judgmental interpretation. It is typically a yes / no answer, which although sometimes perhaps necessary, can be limiting in terms of information and understanding.
Example: Will you meet the month end deadline?
Level 2 – Open Ended
This is much more effective than Level 1, engages the person, gets them talking and with appropriate listening can very effectively help people move to where they need to go. It also provides context for an answer, helps create a better understanding of what the challenges are. However it has a tendency to be problem focused.
Example: How are you coming along for the month end deadline?
Level 3 – Empowering
These are questions that are asked in an open ended fashion but are set in the context of helping the individual evaluate and identify the opportunities, be motivating and focused on the solution. This is the optimum level where the focus is on supporting and enabling the person being questioned to achieve a desired outcome.
Example: What are your priorities for ensuring you meet the month end deadline?
From a leadership perspective, many forget that the person asking the empowering questions actually controls the conversation. This is a somewhat ironic by-product of their serving a greater need (helping the one being questioned). In fact very often in groups or teams they establish credibility because their questions benefit everybody present and that is their sincere motivation.