We ask questions everyday – they are a natural part of conversation. In part, because we are so familiar with the practice, we don’t often take time to consider the power of those questions or our skill in using them. As a leader and coach, they are one of the most useful tools we have to do our jobs well. Even if you are nodding in agreement with what you just read, here is my question for you: Are you asking enough questions?
Quality vs Quantity
While my question implies that you could probably be asking more, quantity alone isn’t the only measure. Simply asking to ask isn’t helpful and isn’t the perfect target. It also isn’t helpful to become seen as a question firehose or that you seem to be preparing to host a game show, by just asking question after question. Good leaders will ponder whether they are asking enough questions, but they will also make sure they are asking good questions, for the right reasons and with the right intention too.
The rest of this article will give you a more complete look at your question-asking prowess.
Assessing Your Practice
It is likely you haven’t given this question much thought in the past. Simply thinking about it is a good step to help you determine how well you are doing. Here are some other things you can do to determine if you are asking enough questions – both from your perspective and the perspective of others.
- Playback your conversations. In most cases you can’t watch an actual recording of your meetings or conversations (though with virtual meetings that might be possible in some situations), you can reflect on how a conversation or meeting went. Ask yourself. Did you feel like you were talking too much of the time? How much interaction was there with the group? If you were doing most of the talking, you either weren’t asking enough questions, or asking them very well.
- Ask for feedback. If you have a third party who attends some of your meetings, ask them to observe your question asking skills and get feedback from them. You can also ask the team or individuals too. Consider asking individuals for specific feedback in this area with a question like: Do I ask enough questions, and do you feel like I give you enough time and space to respond and give input?
- Make it a metric. Begin to measure or keep track of the number of questions you ask in a given situation. If you keep track in all meetings and individual conversations for a week you will learn much about your question-asking habits. Just make a tick-mark in your notes every time you ask a question. You will not capture everyone, but the mere exercise of tracking them will keep this top of mind and lead you to asking more questions.
Picking Your Spots
While most leaders will be, in general, better served by asking more questions, there are certain times when they can be especially useful. Here are three particularly powerful times to ask more questions:
- Early in a conversation. If you ask one question, get few responses and start talking more – you run the risk of getting no input at all. When you ask a question and get no (or very limited) responses, ask another question. Asking more than once, in different ways, shows others that you really want their input. Being patient in asking more questions here will make a big difference in engagement and will likely get you new perspectives, opinions and ideas.
- When being asked your opinion. When someone asks you for your opinion, consider first asking for their thoughts or recommendations. As the leader if you “go first” you might not get their ideas at all – and you are teaching people to treat you as the source of all answers rather than a valuable resource and collaborator.
- At the end of meetings or one-on-ones. Asking a closing question either to make sure you have gotten all of their input (e.g. “Is there anything else we need to talk about, or I need to know?”) or as a chance to ask for some feedback (e.g. “what can I do to better support you or help you succeed?”) is a great time to ask more questions.
Planning and Implementing
If you earnestly want to ask more questions as a leader, one of the best things you can do is change your preparation approach for meetings and conversations. Most people plan for a meeting by making a list of bullet points either in their notes or in the case of a meeting, on their slides.
While you need to prepare the content you want to share, you can also plan the questions you will ask. Make part of your planning to be a list of question you might ask the others in the conversation. By making a list of questions, you are more likely to ask them, and you won’t have to think of questions in the moment, you simply need to look at your notes.
Can You Ask Too Many?
It is true, more isn’t always better. Questions are for good leaders like spices are to a good cook. They make the conversation more palatable and effective, but too many can overwhelm the conversation. Remember that questions can engage and encourage others. If we don’t ask implicitly, people might assume, because of our positional power that we don’t want their opinion and input. But if we always ask, and never share our opinion, or ask people when they really want our opinion we may be asking too often.
Asking enough (and the right) questions is just one skill needed to be an effective and confident coach. If you know that you want and need to be a better coach, join me at an upcoming virtually delivered Coaching with Confidence learning experience. Or contact us about bringing this learning experience to leaders and coaches in your organization.