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How to ask great Questions?- By Audrey Halpern

Updated: Oct 6, 2022

Please read the follow up blog to understand this better - Asking questions can be powerful

Here's how to ask great questions:

  1. Limit the actual question to one sentence. Feel free to state the problem or issue in detail, but limit your question to one sentence. "How can we increase productivity?" "How can we improve quality?" "What would you do if you were me?" Sticking to one sentence helps ensure your questions are open ended.

  2. Provide options in the question only if those truly are the only options. But keep in mind those rarely are the only options. The odds you've already thought of everything are pretty slim.

  3. Don't shade the question. You may think you know the answer. Great. Keep that to yourself. Make your questions answer-neutral.

  4. Follow the same principles for follow-up questions. Stay short. Stay open ended. Stay neutral.

Talk as little as possible. You already know what you know. Great questions are designed to find out what the other person knows. So stay quiet and listen. You never know what you'll learn when you ask the right way. We talk too much and accept bad answers (or worse, no answers). We’re too embarrassed to be direct, or we’re afraid of revealing our ignorance, so we throw softballs, hedge, and miss out on opportunities to grow.

But we don’t have to.

The following advice can make you a much better interrogator, not to mention conversationalist:

Don’t Ask Multiple-Choice Questions

When people are nervous, they tend to ramble, and their questions tend to trail off into series of possible answers. (“What’s the most effective way to find a good programmer? Is it to search on Monster or to go on LinkedIn or to talk to people you know or … uh… uh… yeah, is it to, um…is there another job site that’s good …?”)

You’re the one with the question; why are you doing all the talking? Terminate the sentence at the question mark. It’s OK to be brief.

Great Questions at a Glance:

  • Don’t ramble on–terminate the sentence at the question mark.

  • Get comfortable with silence.

  • Start with “who, what, when, where, how, or why” for more meaningful answers.

  • Don’t fish for the answer you want.

  • Stop nodding if you don’t understand–ask a follow-up instead.

  • If you get a non-answer, approach it again from a different angle.

  • Rephrase the answer in your own words.

  • Don’t be afraid to ask dumb questions.

On that note, learn to be comfortable with silence. Allow your respondent to think; don’t jump in with possible answers after a few seconds pass. You won’t get answers if you keep talking, and you’ll rarely learn anything if you offer all the answers. (Of course, if you’re trying to limit an answer to “yes” or “no,” you can do that, but if you’re seeking advice or stories, opt for open-ended questions.)

Good: “What would you do?” Bad: “Would you do X?” Terrible: “Would you do X or Y or Z or Q or M or W or … ?” Adding a simple “what” to a bad question beginning with “do you think” is all it takes to generate an open-ended response. Practice asking questions that begin with the 5Ws (and H) to turn duds around.

Interject With Questions When Necessary “Stopping a conversation to ask the right questions is far superior to nodding along in ignorance,” Ratliff says. "A good journalist will steer a conversation by cutting in with questions whenever they need to. This helps rein in ramblers and clarify statements before the conversation gets too far ahead to go back. Notice how great interviewers like Larry King or Jon Stewart maintain control of their conversations; it’s almost always through polite interruptions–not with things they want to say, but with questions that keep the Q&A on course.

Mature people will rarely be upset by interruptions that let them continue talking. To the contrary, additional questions make people feel like they’re being listened to.

Field Non-Answers By Reframing Questions Later

Journalists are used to speaking with publicists and well-rehearsed businesspeople with whom it’s often hard to pin down to get a straight answer. Sometimes non-answers are delivered deliberately; often they’re the results of simple rambling. (How many times have you forgotten the question halfway through your response?).

In these cases, you can follow up with either a direct question (“So, how many dollars per month will this cost?”) or by slipping in a variation of the question later into the Q&A. Journalists often have to probe from multiple angles before unlocking the information they need. As long as you are sincere, you won’t come off badly if you ask clarifying questions about the same sorts of things. You won’t come out as empty handed either.

Repeat Answers Back For Clarification Or More Detail.

If you’re getting vague responses–or complicated ones for that matter–restate the answers in your own words. (“So, your software will email me any time there are important news stories in my industry?”)

This will typically yield either a definitive “that’s correct,” or a clarification with extra detail. Either way, it’s useful for getting a precise answer.

I know some people who deliberately misparaphrase respondents’ answers in order to incite quick, and often less careful, responses–or in some cases catch someone who’s lying. (Be your own judge of when and whether you feel comfortable employing such tactics.)

Don’t Be Embarrassed

The worst kind of question is the one left unasked. “There’s typically no point in pretending you know something when you don’t,” Ratliff says. “As a reporter the goal is to gather information, not to impress your subjects. You’d think it would be different in business, but it’s not.”

stay tuned for more


By- Audrey Halpern (⭐️Learning and Development Consultant⭐️Trainer⭐️Facilitator)



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