One of the most powerful tools in a leader’s communication toolbox is the question. The effective use of questions is essential to communication. According to business consulting firms, when worded poorly, questions can be confusing and may not result in the answers you seek. Take Maryland voting ballots, for example. According to local news station ABC2News, the questions on past ballots were so confusing that voters had to read them several times in order to understand them. The news station states that despite wording improvements, ballot questions may still be difficult to understand as some have more than 90 words in a single sentence or are framed in a confusing manner.
The Importance of Effective Questions
Business consulting firms see it all the time—ineffective questions resulting in workplace conflict, miscommunications and hurt feelings. In the business world, good questions can further the thought process, save time, help you have a better understanding of others and their ideas, are specific, can enhance creativity and have a purpose. Furthermore, effective questions help resolve or prevent problems, which can enhance communication and teamwork.
Qualities of Effective Questions
- Don’t make issues personal: For example, asking, “Can you tell me more about your thought process/how you came to this conclusion?” is more effective than, “What were you thinking?” The first question asks for clarification while the second can seem like a personal attack.
- They are appropriately open-ended or close-ended: Open-ended questions prompt a conversation because they require more than one or two words to answer. Close-ended questions are those that a person can answer with “yes,” “no” or a short comment. Business consulting firms recommend asking open-ended questions when you seek particular information.
- Specificity: Ask what you want to know to get the information you seek. As an example, “On what year were your born?” is more clear than, “What year is your birthday?” The later question can result in a non-specific answer like, “Every year.”
- Proper framing: The way that you set up a question can help you communicate better. When you ask a question, frame it in a manner that:
- Avoids setting up false comparisons or dilemmas
- Follows its premise
- Doesn’t assume the answer
- Doesn’t use loose definitions
- Avoids ambiguities
- Is sincere and respectful
- Doesn’t “lead the witness”
Effective, intelligent questions leave an impact on others. A question is as valuable and important, if not more, as its answer. With the help of business consulting firms, you can learn to improve in all aspects of communication.
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