If you think about it, you’ll find that people who aren’t paying attention to you have nothing to ask and seem to agree to everything you say. This can severely interfere with communication, especially in a work environment. To avoid falling into this trap, we’ve collected 6 tips on how to ask better questions in conversations and why it matters so much.
1) Ask open-ended questionsOne of the most important characteristics of great conversationalists is that they often use open-ended questions. Not only do they understand the power of questioning, but they know how to utilise it.
But what exactly is an open question? Let’s take the following four questions as an example:
- Do you want that report?
- Why do you want that report?
- Are you busy?
- What are you working on?
You’ll notice that questions 1 and 3 require short, single word answers - these are called close-ended questions. One the other hand, questions 2 and 4 require elaboration which can lead to full conversations and discussions, and these are considered open-ended questions.
2) Ask for more informationPeople who have dealt with children in any capacity can attest to their intense curiosity. They’re almost constantly asking questions. Phrases such as ‘why this’, ‘what’s that’ or ‘how?’ are all vital parts of their vocabulary. The reason for this is that they know they need to ask questions if they want more information.
As we grow, however, we become more and more reluctant to ask. According to Innovation Management, one of the most common reasons for this is that people are lazy. They think they know everything there is to know, and they don't bother to ask more. A sense of personal pride and independence can also motivate people to stop asking questions. Unfortunately, in work situations, failing to do this can affect your progress and your productivity.
To avoid this, try asking questions and pursuing information wherever possible. Not only will it help you to work more effectively, but it also shows the other person that you’re interested in what they have to say. If you need some more help with how to ask good questions, Activia covers this in more detail in our communication skills courses.
3) Ask for clarificationSimilarly to a lack of questions, misunderstandings can lead to a lot of problems as well, especially in workplace situations. This is why it’s crucial to ask for clarification if you haven’t fully understood something. Although some people worry that this might make them appear less intelligent, but this is not the case - so don’t be afraid to ask for clarification.
It’s equally important to make sure that your audience has understood you. Try to invite questions at regular intervals to make sure that everyone is on the same page.
4) Encourage further inputAsking questions such as ‘what do you think will happen if we make these changes,’ or ‘how will this policy affect our long term plans,’ encourage people to really think about these matters. Questions like these invite input from others, open up a discussion where ideas can be exchanged, and can encourage team or even company-wide improvement in communication. They lead to meaningful dialogues that can be very advantageous for both you and your colleagues.
5) Control the direction of the conversationEffective communicators can control the direction of conversation by asking the right questions at the right time. For example, if you want the other person to focus on their previous point and elaborate on it instead of moving on, all you need to do is ask a question.
Do you have any other tips on how to ask better questions in conversations? As always, make sure to tell us in the comments below.