Questioning Techniques, YES … but you want answers!

Communication Skills CourseInteractive listeners ask questions gain information from the speaker and to ensure that they understand the speaker’s point and context. Most team leaders can communicate well with most team members. But occasionally, there will be some difficulty.

Team leaders must obtain a great deal of the information they need from team members. Often, the needed information is obtained by asking questions. For that reason, you need to be able to ask the right questions in the right way. Three of the most difficult types of people to question are reserved people, talkative people, and confrontational people. Let’s examine each of these three types.

When questioning reserved people, the $1,000,000 question is how can you obtain information from someone who is reluctant to respond, or who provides only snippets of information? Actually, you can’t make anyone say more than they want to say. However, there are four techniques that you can use to encourage openness.

Explain why you’re asking particular questions because most people are usually more willing to answer questions when they understand the reason for the question. That will let the other person know you’re asking questions out of necessity, not because you are being intrusive.

Pause frequently because some people are slow to answer questions not because they’re trying to withhold information but because they have difficulty putting their ideas into words. Give them enough time to format their responses and in most cases they will give you the information you need.

Use open-ended questions to discourage one-word answers. An open-ended question requires an analytical response. One way to encourage more reasoned responses is to preface or format the questions with why; also try, give me your reasons for …; how do you think we can make this work? Or, what would you do or recommend in this situation?

Keep your comments short because we start talking more than we should to fill the gaps in the dialogue it allows the other person to do what they want to do which is to keep their mouth shut. To achieve the best results and information, you should keep your comments short and to a minimum. When questioning a reserved person, let them talk more than you do. If anyone’s voice is going to fill the gap, make sure it is theirs.

Questioning talkative people is likely to be a time-consuming process because they frequently ramble or digress. You must remove as many of these opportunities as possible. Here are three techniques that can be used to encourage concise and clear responses.

Politely interrupt without being rude. It is efficient. Neither you nor the speaker will be able to get any work done while he is providing a long-winded answer to a short question. So without sounding brusque or impatient, say something like, ” … if you don’t mind, could we get back to the original point?” or “… I’d like to hear the end of the story, but I have to get back to work.”

Closed Ended Questions
Use closed ended questions as a tactic if you need specific information. As a strategy, the fewer open-ended questions you ask the better. Closed questions are more specific and confining, and verbal confinement is exactly what talkative people need.

Use restrictions when the speaker begins to provide irrelevant information. Use some restrictions such as “could we skip that part for now?” or “can we address that at some other time?” or “for the moment, let’s talk about (fill in the blank),” or “let’s go on to Y instead.” The more you can control the responses, the more productive and efficient your interactions will be.

Questioning confrontational people is challenging, but every team leader has to ask questions of someone who is angry, surly, insulting or combative. Dealing with these team members is not easy or pleasant. Here are techniques that will help you.

Remain calm because psychologists suggest that the best way to discourage hostility is not to respond in kind. The theory is that if the belligerent person sees that irascible behavior is succeeding, they are likely to press for more advantage. The technique that we can exercise is to progressively lower our voice and speak slower to calm the person down.

Some people, when frustrated in their efforts to provoke a fight, will give up the effort and others will redouble their efforts. If this happens, address them directly and calmly.

Some sample responses are: “John, I’m not here to argue with you. I’m here to get some information on (fill in the blank).” Or, “Jim, you are not going to get a rise out of me, so let calmly address your issues.”

Use praise that is sincere and specific because it is harder to be nasty to people who are nice to us. Comment honestly on the answers you get and, if possible, make favorable comments.

For example, “That was a good idea you offered on…” or “I like that idea about [blank], its innovative.”

Paying attention means giving the other person a chance to get through to you. The instant you stop paying attention, you stop listening. Some will make it easy to pay attention by zeroing in on a single point, relating that point to you, and talking about that point in concrete terms. Others will make it hard to pay attention by jumping from point to point.

Understanding requires more than just paying attention or hearing someone’s words. It requires thoughtful interpretation and searching questions. Unlike paying attention, understanding is something you must do on your own. Understanding is interactive and requires you to ask questions and seek clarification of various points.

For most of us, something is worth remembering if it is personally significant, useful or unusual. Usually, we remember only those things we consider worth remembering. We sometimes remember the trivial and forget the significant. The striking, the colorful, and the exceptional are frequently remembered even though they’re of no significance.

Related Articles: What’s Not in a Job Description? and   Interviewing Skills … your secret weapon!

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James E. McClain is the author of Successful Career Development: A Game Plan, the book upon which some of our training programs are based. He has over 30 years' experience as a corporate HR executive, small business owner with ongoing experience in career development and as a college instructor. His educational background includes a B.S. and Masters degrees Education and Certification in Financial Planning. Our promise is that "you can pay more for training but you can not buy better training." The mission is to deliver the most effective and cost effective training and development programs.

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