A to Z of Soft Skills: Q for Questioning Skills
Questioning is the foundation of all the inventions that have happened in the history of mankind. Skepticism has led to finding answers to the great mysteries of life. From seeking information to asking for affirmation (“Will you marry me” – on one knee!), questions play an important, albeit under-rated, role in our communication. Today’s post explores the importance of this less talked about skill and how we can develop and leverage it to communicate better in our every day lives.
Questions play an important role in a lot of areas. The Socratic method of questioning is a systematic and disciplined questioning used to explore concepts, analyse ideas and looks into the workings of complex issues. The same method is also very useful in pedagogy or teaching. Questions can be asked to understand the extent of the student’s knowledge and encourage further thinking.
Questioning is a great soft skill to develop since it serves so many purposes even today. Questions are an important part of communicating effectively with colleagues, seniors and clients. They can be used in many ways to:
Enhance understanding and eliminate miscommunication: A simple question can clarify things further rather than create problems later. For instance, if someone has asked you to do something, a quick question to clarify will put both of you on the same page.
Ask for information: “When is that report due?” “What time will you arrive for the meeting?” Such simple questions can make sure that you remain up to date with what’s happening around you.
Summarise: If someone just finished giving you a set of instructions or asked a lengthy question with the context thrown in, the best way to know if you got it right is to quickly summarise and ask, “Did I understand it right?” This, again, nips any chances of miscommunication in the bud,
Clarify: ” Did you mean the 25th of this month or the next?” “Don’t you think it’s better to gather all the ideas first and then put together a report?” These are things that you need to know before you move on to the next thing. A question suffices here too.
Test someone’s knowledge: This is useful in interviews or classrooms. Testing someone’s knowledge is important in an interview to decide the right candidate. Questions also help a teacher understand how much the students have learnt.
Encourage thinking: “Do you think this is the right thing to do?” Something as simple as this can add a new dimension to a conversation and help explore more options.
Coaching: One of my favourite areas, open ended questions are the foundation of coaching. Coaching interventions can begin with simply – What’s on your mind? and take just 10 minutes. Every manager can be an effective coach with just a few questions to help people around. Here are 7 coaching questions for managers which will make it super easy for you to coach at any time. There’s an even easier way to do it. Here is the shorter version of it with a 3-question structure which makes a template for a quick coaching session.
When you need to say ‘No’ to someone: Questions are a great way to make more sense of someone’s request, especially if you are going to refuse. “Is this urgent?” “Would it be okay if I did this later?” “Can I get back to you about my availability for the same?” “Is it okay if I ask Mike to help you out with this?” There are several ways in which you can deal with a request instead of accepting it as an unwanted obligation. This also, in a way, serves to give alternatives (Mike!) which the other person might not have thought of.
As a speaking tool: Think of a presentation that’s going on for sometime and everyone’s settled well in their seats. What happens when the speaker suddenly asks a question? We tend to become more alert and sit up a little straighter, right? Questions can serve as a great tool to keep people alert, get them to participate with, say, a show of hands or even induce humour with a rhetorical question.
There are different type of questions which one can choose from to suit a situation. Open ended – ones that can be answered in just ‘yes’ and ‘no’, close ended questions – which make way for longer answers, rhetorical questions – which don’t really need answers since answers are implied, probing questions that seek to go deep into the topic, leading questions which make assumptions about the answers.
If questions are so useful, should we not be using them more often and more effectively to communicate? Here’s how to do it:
Use open ended questions: Most of the times. This gets you more details than just yes or no! You can take the discussion forward based on the asnwers to your open questions.
Use a combination of who, why, when, where. what, how to explore ideas: Combine some of these classics to get more information, clarify, interrogate or to serve whatever the purpose of your questions is.
Ask “why” often: This not just helps you reach the real purpose of why you wish to do or not do something, why you choose to prioritise one thing over the other but also help others think about clarifying their goals too. Asking it a couple of times can actually do wonders to clear the thinking process and understand why tasks/goals need to be done. (or not)
Be structured: Have you come across someone who’s question is so long winding that you need to counter question to get the point? Don’t be that person! Put some thought in framing your questions. Make your point clear the very first time.
Pause: A pause after a question is a great indicator that you are done and the answer can begin. If you are the one who answered a question, pause after you finish to indicate that you are done.
Check back: “Is this what you meant?” “Did I answer your question?” Ask a question to check back whether your answer was able to meet the goal of the question.
Read the posts that I shared in this post: Yes! In fact, if questions interest you to be able to coach your team better, I highly recommend that you read the book, The Coaching Habit by Michael Stanier, who talks about the 7 coaching questions I have written about in my post.
I hope this post was able to help look at questions in a new light! I sure learnt a lot during my research for the same! Do share this post with your friends. And also look around for tips on improving other soft skills that I have discussed during this challenge.