Managers use questions in nearly every aspect of their business to gather information and opinions. Highly skilled managers, however, are familiar with questioning techniques that maximize communication of information and foster productive relationships. Asking the right questions can move work forward by stimulating individuals to conceptualize and make decisions, and to think creatively.
Managers who ask the right types of questions demonstrate respect and interest in their employees’ work, thereby setting the stage for an environment of learning and engagement. Done properly, questioning can boost a manager’s credibility. However, questioning should be done only if a manager intends to actually listen to the answer. Listening allows a more natural conversation to occur between manager and employee, as opposed to interrogation to extract specific information.
The author identifies four main types of questions that managers can employ:
Open Questions – allow for a wide range of responses. This gives the person being questioned the opportunity to use their own judgment and convey what he or she thinks is important, thereby cultivating creativity and self-esteem. An open question encourages the employee to search for answers, and it challenges them to analyze situations. Managers can learn a great deal about how their employees think and operate based on their answers. The downside is that the information provided is often unsifted, and it therefore takes a manager longer to listen to and analyze it.
Closed Questions – are used to gather specific information and facts quickly. If closed questions are used improperly, however, they can make the manager seem aloof, curt, or uninterested, and they may force a person into answering a certain way.
Behavioral Questions – inquire about how a person has acted in certain situations in the past. These are useful during interviews with potential employees and during team training.
Situational Questions – are similar to behavioral questions but are hypothetical, since they are based on speculation of how someone would act in the future. They allow managers to prepare their employees for potential problems, and they serve as a point of discussion for alternative ways to work in the future.