Questioning Skills

by Steve Roche

In a nutshell

1.Why do good questions matter?

Questioning skills are essential to many business roles and functions, such as managing, coaching, mentoring, negotiating, appraising and interviewing. Good questioning is a vital part of

  • making decisions
  • reaching agreements
  • selling and influencing
  • dealing with customer complaints
  • getting and giving information (for example, policy, instructions, feedback, marketing information).

Answers are a matter of our current knowledge about ‘what is’, but questions are the product of imagination and serve to stimulate imagination even further.


2. An approach to questioning

Skilled questioners have the right attitude, showing respect for the other person and exhibiting listening and rapport skills by

  • helping the other person to feel comfortable and at ease
  • pacing their current state (for example, reflecting their posture, language or degree of animation)
  • creating a feeling of trust and safety (for example, by creating boundaries around confidentiality).

Any question contains an unspoken statement about you.


3. Choosing your question

To ask good questions we need to know our objectives, which might be to elicit information, build rapport, establish mutual interests, develop the other person or challenge their thinking.

With this awareness we can choose the appropriate type of question:

  • open
  • closed
  • leading
  • hypothetical
  • either/or
  • multiple
  • why?


4. Powerful questions

The most powerful questions cause people to search in a new direction – towards a new insight, action, or commitment. They are delivered with timing and rapport. Discover powerful questions by listening to discover what is the real issue, and what is underneath? Types of powerful question include

  • chaining questions
  • incisive questions
  • self-challenging questions.


5. Deletions, distortions and generalisations

These faults in the thinking process can be identified by appropriate questioning.

  • deletion occurs when we overlook, tune out or omit. When we delete parts of our experience either they do not register or we discount them as unimportant.
  • distortion is a personal prejudice that twists our perceptions. We amplify or diminish our experience, seeing it differently, as in a hall of mirrors.
  • generalisation occurs when we reach a global conclusion based on one or two experiences, taking them as representative of a whole class, and paying no attention to exceptions.


6. Internal questioning

Sometimes it’s important to start by asking yourself questions, looking for your personal deletions, distortions and generalisations:

  • do you have any demotivating unrealistic comparisons in your mind?
  • are you limiting yourself with ought tos and can’ts?
  • how do you believe questions should be answered?
  • are you flexible?


7. Developing your questioning technique

Experienced and successful questioners don’t simply know which type of question to ask. They also

  • carefully avoid appearing to interrogate
  • ask questions that suggest a mental reframe.