When Questions Make a Statement

Red question mark in pile of other questions marksQuestions can make powerful statements.  They are the heart of effective communications.  Asking questions help you better understand situations, relate to others, build relationships, assist someone to perform better through coaching, or persuade someone to change their behavior.

Context matters in how you frame your questions. It isn’t unusual for a technology trainer to move from trainer to support to facilitator –and often the lines blur–where you move between roles even in the same conversation.

When you find that you need to build a relationship with someone, ask questions that help you learn more about the person and the situation.  Start with easy questions and questions that relay your empathy to their situation.  Let them know you see the situation from their point of view.  You don’t want them to feel like they are being interrogated.  Ask questions that allow you to gather more information, build rapport and demonstrate your empathy to their situation.  To build rapport, “How can I help you?” is an easy first question that expresses your interest.

In a coaching role or one where you are trying to help someone perform better on the job, you’ll be asking questions to help you clarify needs through open-ended questions.  You would ask for specific examples, check for understanding, or ask for repetition to ensure understanding.  In this situation, use questions to help people commit to a course of action.  “What is your next step?” is a simple question that prompts for recall of the preceding conversation while moving someone to action.

A big part of our job is getting people on board to change their behavior.  Ask persuading questions to lead others to perform some type of action.  Some are direct questions that you ask others.  But often, they are the questions you ask of yourself to build a business case argument or to develop effective communications plan for a learning project. When people feel listened to, they feel understood and are more trusting of you.

There is more to asking questions than, well… asking questions.  All the while we are asking other people questions, we are asking and answering questions internally.  What is the real problem or issue that needs to be solved with your intervention?  What are the obstacles? Is there a technical issue or just a lack of knowledge?  What is the person’s attitude? How do they feel about the problem and possibility learning something new in the moment? In a split second you take in the situation and that adds to asking thoughtful questions.

You also need to listen and listen thoughtfully. Wait for others to complete their answer.  When you are trying to create better users, it’s not enough to tell the person what the problem is. You need to be helping them find out or understand it for themselves.  Listen to the intent behind the words.  Pay attention for those extra details.

What questions will you ask today?

About the author: Tami Schiller

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