Effective workplace communication can improve productivity by as much as 25%. And one of the most effective ways to improve communication at work is to ask questions.
How many questions have you asked today? A lot? Or just a few? Chances are it's the latter. We are pretty good at asking some questions - how are you? Have you had a good weekend? Have you completed that report? Important questions, yes, but they only touch the surface.
Asking powerful questions is a skill that requires consistent practice. It’s also one of the most effective communication tools and skills for leaders to develop. Why? Because by asking the right questions, you receive more than just answers. You build relationships, trust, and rapport. You encourage new ideas and innovation, and you can prevent potential issues from arising.
Questions are a crucial aspect of relationship dynamics. But few leaders consider the questions they ask and the answers they give. And when it comes to questioning, we usually don't ask enough.
The importance of powerful questions
People hold back for so many reasons. For example, they are not invested in the conversation, they don't care about the answer, or they might be egocentric and prefer talking to listening. Sometimes, they might worry about asking wrong or silly questions. But we confirm: there are no silly questions!
Research shows that asking more questions leads to higher emotional intelligence and soft skills, which is important for any team. When both of these skills are high, effective communication in the workplace increases.
People who ask powerful questions are better at building relationships by showing genuine interest in the person they are talking to. They often have fewer biases and prejudices, leading to better decision-making and the practice of inclusive leadership.
Situations for powerful questions
Being able to ask the right questions at the right time is crucial. Situations that will benefit from powerful questions include:
These exchanges achieve very little and don’t build any sort of trusting foundation between employee and manager. But, we can change that with great questioning. So, next time you are in an appraisal meeting, try asking follow-up questions. This type of questioning solicits more information and it signals to the person that you are listening, that you care, and that you want to know more.
The good thing is that follow-up questions don't take much preparation, but they result in the person feeling respected and heard - a win, win!
So, what does this look like in practice? For example, if you want to know about your appraisee's current workload, you might start with a leading question 'Is your current workload manageable?' After the response, you would ask a follow-up question such as 'Tell me about the areas where you have too much or too little capacity'.
Using a casual tone of questioning, rather than a formal one, encourages people to be more forthcoming in their answers. This works particularly well for team ideation meetings where creativity is encouraged and judgement suspended.
A great tip here is to ask the quietest people for their opinion or thoughts after a meeting has finished. Often, they may not feel comfortable speaking out in the presence of others, meaning their thoughts and ideas are missed.
Some situations may require a more formal tone - negotiating prices, for example. But, generally, you'll find people more willing to share information when the conversation is relaxed.
Some individuals can find it difficult to know when to push with their questioning. Try making things easier with communication tools like Loopin. It can act as a great conversation starter, giving you the cues you need to improve communication at work.
Types of questions
So, what does a powerful question look like? The idea with powerful questions is to build relationships, better understand a situation, encourage creativity and learning, and generate action.
Powerful questions are:
To excel as a leader, powerful questions should be a part of your repertoire. Using powerful questions helps you to evaluate your colleagues, teams, and situations more clearly, leading to better outcomes for everyone involved.
So go on, allow yourself to be curious.
Ask the right questions and be sure to listen carefully to the answers.
With the new 1:1 feature in Loopin, we’re helping managers and leaders ask the right questions. Supporting managers to become great leaders with a consistent, daily approach encourages employees to excel at work, feeling supported, valued, appreciated, and listened to.
Want to see the 1:1 feature in action? Click here to book a super quick 15-minute demo with one of the team. We’d love to hear from you!