Making sure you get the answers you need

Some employees hold onto information like it’s a state secret. But asking the right kinds of questions – not just the right questions – can help get it out.

And sometimes the best questions aren’t really questions. They’re commands in disguise.

Open-ended questions help

Open-ended questions tend to produce answers beyond “yes” and “no” and “I don’t know” They start with words like:

  • How
  • Why
  • When
  • Where
  • What
  • Who and
  • Which

Closed-ended questions – those that invite those frustrating short answers – start with words like:

  • Do
  • Is
  • Can
  • Could
  • Will
  • Would and
  • Should

Commands disguised as questions

Another technique for getting at that difficult information. Start by saying:

  • “Tell me, Larry…”
  • “Explain to me, Jill…”
  • “Describe to me, Carol…”

You’ll get the person’s attention by using his or her name, and you’ll also make it clear what you expect

The follow-up

Don’t always expect you’ll get the answer you are looking for with that first question. Follow-up questions are important to getting to the true issue. Here are some examples:

  • How so?
  • When you say that, what do you mean?
  • Hmmmm…  Tell me more

Be patient. Don’t be afraid of a little silence. Sometimes the dead air is just what is needed for the other person to share what you are looking for.


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