Perfecting the Art of Asking Questions


A Guide for Effective Communication in Meetings

We have all heard the story of Martin Cooper, the American engineer, who pioneered the wireless communications industry. His one question at a meeting for car phone instruments changed the entire way the world looked at telecommunication devices.

What was that one question – “Why are we calling places (homes, offices, and cars) instead of calling people?” Spot on!  Phone numbers should be assigned to people and not to places. And so, the idea of the first cellular phone was born.

You may be having numerous questions, foggily strewn in some part of your brain. If you can craft them the right way, trust me, you have arrived!

Guidelines for framing questions the right way for your meetings:

Before you start listing down your questions for that all-important meeting, please keep in mind the kind of information you are seeking: facts and figures or views and feedback. By structuring your questions accordingly, you can extract the precise information you need.

Structure your questions such that they eke out the information you need.

  1. Avoid clubbing two or more points in a single question: Draft short questions covering one point at a time.

Instead of combining different aspects in one question like, “How will the new software impact productivity, user experience, and cost-efficiency?” (multiple points), ask, “What effects do you anticipate the new software will have on productivity?” and separately, “How do you expect the new software to enhance the user experience?” and “What potential cost-efficiencies do you foresee with the implementation of the new software?”

By separating each point into its own question, you allow for a focused discussion on each topic, ensuring clarity and more precise responses. This approach enables a more organized and effective exchange of information during meetings or discussions.

2. Adapt to your listener: Match your language and knowledge level with that of your listener.

  • Avoid industry jargon with someone who is not from the industry.

  Instead of asking, “How can we optimize our customer acquisition through CTR and SEO strategies?” (jargon-filled), ask, “What methods do you think we can use to attract more customers online?” (clear and easily understandable).

  • Do not use technical language while conversing with people, not from technical backgrounds.

 Instead of saying, “We need to refactor the codebase to improve scalability and optimize performance,” (technical language), say, “We should make some changes to the underlying code to make our system handle larger volumes of data and run faster,” (layman’s terms).

Remember, effective communication bridges gaps and encourages collaboration. By using language that is inclusive and easily comprehensible to individuals from various backgrounds, you foster an environment where everyone can actively participate and contribute to the conversation.

3. Use open-ended questions when looking for a detailed response: Begin open-ended questions with words such as – Why, How, What do you think about, etc.

 What do you think about the equation of the team with the new manager?

Answers, by and large, will not be facts, but views, feedback, or ideas.

4. Use closed-ended questions for yes/no/facts/figures as answers: Begin closed-ended questions with words like –Do you, Is, Can, Have you, Which, How often, etc.

   How often do you call the team for review meetings?

  Do you think we should go ahead and release the draft?

They help gather specific information or confirm particular details efficiently.

5. Use direct requests with people reluctant to respond: Begin direct questions with – Tell me about, Describe, Explain, etc.

 Tell me about the dry run of the new app.

6. Ask the question you think everyone in the meeting might have:  Doing this showcases your leadership skills.

I’m sure many of us are wondering about the timeline for this project. Can you provide an overview of the key milestones and when we can expect to achieve them?

7. Ask only relevant and essential questions: If you can find the answer on your own, do not ask. Defying this unsaid rule shows that you do not respect others’ time.

8. Use neutral and unbiased language for opinion-oriented responses: Avoid leading words in your question if you are seeking true opinion.

Instead of asking, “What do you have to say about the exceptional presentation skills of your new team member?“, ask, “What do you think about the presentation skills of your new team member?

9. Mind the tone of your questions:

  • Avoid posing sarcastic ones as it builds bitterness.

  As the entire team claims to be overworked, why not send them on a picnic? X

  • Avoid throwing your question as a challenge to your listener’s knowledge.

   What makes you think that your approach will work? X

10. Let the speaker finish answering your question before you shoot your next: Do not snap in between or start asking your next question while the speaker is still speaking. Give each speaker your undivided attention and let them finish answering before moving on to your next question. This demonstrates respect and allows for a more meaningful exchange of ideas.

11. Swing smoothly from one question to the next: Pick a point from the speaker’s last answer and sleek it relevantly to your next question. Doing so displays that you are an attentive listener.

12. Avoid No-No words while posing questions: Do not begin your questions with words like Sorry.., I am sorry but.., I just want to ask.., Quick question.., Just that.., etc.

These question-beginners undermine the weightage of your query.

13. Make your questions crisp and to the point: Do not use different sets of words to ask the same question over and over again.

Can we not request that HR conduct the function early on when the CFO arrives? Shouldn’t our team take this issue of bringing the function date forward so as to accommodate the CFO? X

14. Limit your questioning to no more than two questions at a time:

  • Ask a generic question out of the two first, followed by the specific one.

   How has the sales team fared in this quarter?

  What specific best practices did they follow this time in order to reach their target?

  • Ask the more important one at the last.

  Did the L&D head touch upon the subject of fresh hire training, at this year’s town hall?

Does the management have any plans to acquire a bigger facility for imparting training?

The questions when asked artfully are bound to get the right answers. This skill, in turn,  adds to the overall effectiveness of any meeting. Go ahead and take a shot!

Neha Srivastava is a Corporate Trainer, Performance Coach, Content Media Professional, and blogger.

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