14 ways to make your questions more productive

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 are able to 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 –

a) facts and figures

b) views and feedback

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

1. Avoid clubbing two or more points in a single question

     e.g.-Why would we need a team of eleven coders for phase one and who would they report to – phase 1 or phase 2 team lead? – X

  • Draft short questions covering one point at a time.

    e.g.- Question 1. Why do we need a team of 11 coders for phase 1 of the project? –

     e.g.- Question 2. Who would they report to?

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

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

     e.g.- Do you think this so-called best practice (jargon) is a magic bullet (jargon).X

     e.g.- Do you think the stated tried and tested way may give us a solution.-

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

     e.g.- Why is the bounce rate for your blog site so high? – X

    e.g.- Why are the visitors to your blogsite not spending enough time to read your articles?-

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.

   e.g.- 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.

   e.g.- How often do you call the team for review meetings?

   e.g.- Do you think we should go ahead and release the draft?

  • Works well if you are seeking facts and figures or limited word response.

5. Use direct requests with people reluctant to respond

  • Begin direct questions with – Tell me about, Describe, Explain, etc.

   e.g.- 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.

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 response

  • Avoid leading words in your question if you are seeking true opinion.

  e.g.- What do you have to say about the exceptional presentation skills of your new team member? – X

  e.g.- 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.

  e.g.-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.

   e.g.- 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.

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.

  e.g.- Can we not request HR to 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 not more than two questions at a time

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

   e.g.- How has the sales team fared in this quarter?

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

  • Ask the more important one at the last.

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

  e.g.- 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!

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