Ask, Don’t Tell: Leading by Asking Questions

Do you want to engage people, get the information you need, and help others and yourself make better decisions?

Then, ask questions!

But, not just any kind of questions will do.  Here are some examples of counter-productive questions:

Bad Questions:

  • How can you be so stupid? (degrading and emotionally-charged)
  • Did I put that in terms simple enough for you? (condescending)
  • Are you trying to pull the wool over my eyes? (aggressive)
  • Are you done, yet? (impatient and closed-ended)

Some questions aren’t “bad;” they are just “tricky” (psychologically leading). An example:

Do you and your manager work well together? (subtly suggests there could be problems).

There are better questions to ask.  Ask questions that display respect.  Use more open-ended questions—questions that can’t be answered with a “yes” or “no.”  They begin with who, what, when, where, why and how.  Open-ended questions are more likely to get people talking.

An alternative to the question “Do you and your manager work well together?” might be to rephrase it: “Tell me about your working relationship with your manager.” (“Tell me” can encourage conversation even more than a question).

There are also better ways of asking questions. One very old, but effective way of asking questions is to use the Socratic Method.

The Socratic Method is often mentioned in the context of teaching and it is an effective way to teach, although it may take a little longer than a lecturing-style.  But, by asking questions, the students are active participants in gaining knowledge.   Teacher Rick Garlikov relates in Teaching by Asking Instead of Telling  how, as a classroom experiment, he taught his students binary arithmetic only by asking them questions.

The Socratic Method can be generalized to other situations as well. In The Socratic Method: Leveraging Questions to Increase Performance, Maj. Norman Patnode gives practical advice on using the Socratic Method as a leader in an organization.

There are no foolish questions, and no man becomes a fool until he has stopped asking questions.

~Charles Proteus Steinmetz


About Diane Windingland
I speak for organizations that want their people to have better, more profitable conversations.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: