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The Art Of Asking Questions

*This article is joint work with Priyanka Nijhawan and Doraiswamy Gurumoorthy.*

Dear Vibrant Young Mind,

As children, a few of us may have been discouraged to ask questions, whether at school or at home. But as grownups, we have much more to lose if we don’t ask questions. According to a study published by Skulmoski, G. J. & Hartman, F. T (2010),

Effective questioning is one of the top 3 communication competencies in every phase of Project Management.

What does questioning mean?

'Questioning is the ability to organize your thoughts around what you want to know.'

Why do we need to ask questions?

At workplace we need to ask questions for many reasons, a few being:

1. Seek information

2. Clarify information

3. Check our understanding

4. Show interest

5. Build rapport

6. Guide conversation in desire direction

7. Stimulate creativity

8. Brainstorming

To ask or not to ask is the ‘Question’

Let us understand the process of asking questions.

It all begins with understanding the intention.

By Intention, we are referring to the three W’s which are the what, the who and the why.

What: What is it that we really want to know? What is the desired information that we want?

Who: Who is the person that we are asking this question? Are they the person who would have the relevant information? Is the question directed to the right person?

Why: What is the reason for seeking the information? Why do we need this information? How important is it to get the information? What would be the end result or repercussions if you do not get this information? It is very important to understand why are we asking the question and this is critical to the next step.

Both the what and the why are extremely important here because this is going to give us the information that we really need.

Once we are clear about our intention with the three Ws, we start framing our question depending on what kind of information we need.

When framing the question make sure you state your intention and reason as well. Remember, if we have a clear understanding of our intention as to why we are asking the question and we state the reason with sincerity this helps us build trust and rapport. It also helps the respondent understand the importance of their response and what is expected from them.

When framing the questions we may need to choose from Open and Closed-ended questions.

Open-ended questions are the questions that intend to help us think deeply about an issue.

Open-ended questions help us get more information about the topic, build rapport, improve understanding and at times even help us find better solutions.

For example: what do you have on agenda for the call today? Questions that include words like – How, why, what, describe, explain etc. can be classified as open-ended questions.

Closed-ended questions on the other hand are questions that can simply be answered with a yes or no or a very short answer.

For example: Is the discussion over for today?

Have you decided on the placement of your logo yet?

Ask with Reason here means to let the other person know your intention of asking the question.

When we ask the question, it is important that all the three Vs are aligned to ensure that our questions are taken in the right spirit.

The 3 Vs:

The verbal – choice of words

The voice – your tone, it indicates your intention to a great extent.

The visual – your expressions convey sincerity

Once we receive the response, evaluate whether the response meets your initial requirement of information. If you have all the answers that you need, summarize your understanding and that concludes the process.

[Summarizing means to sum up the understanding in your own words. Summarizing is important to ensure that the information you have gathered is accurate and not an assumption, this can also be another form of a question like: ‘I understand that………., is my understanding correct?’ (Is this an example of the open or closed-ended question?)]

If the response does not meet your requirements, then you need to go back in the process flow and identify – what further information do you need?

We then frame our next question with clear Intention using the 3Ws, and further clarify the reasons and intent.

Dos and Don'ts of asking effective questions

To conclude, the entire art of questioning is to get a desired response. The focus here is to ask questions in a manner such that the listener understands the intention and the importance of answering that question and provides us with sufficient information to meet our needs and requirements.

Works Cited:

Skulmoski, G. J. & Hartman, F. T. (2010). Information systems project manager soft competencies: a project-phase investigation. Project Management Journal, 41(1), 61–77.

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