3 Types of Questions Smart People Never Ask (and 5 They Do)

Smart people don"t just ask questions--they ask smart questions.

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"I"m thinking of moving two crews to a different shift rotation to get a better process flow," I said. "I"ve run the numbers, and overall productivity should go up by at least 10 percent. What do you think?"

My new shift rotation worked on paper. It even worked in practice. But it screwed up the personal lives of a bunch of great employees. (Luckily, I pulled my head out of my ass and shifted everyone back to their old rotations.)

We all do it. We ask leading questions. We ask limiting questions. We ask questions that assume a certain answer. (Shoot, sometimes we don"t even listen to the answers--we"re too busy presuming we"re right.)

Asking a question that assumes a particular answer is easy to do when you already think you"re right and just want people to say you"re right.

"Don"t you think we should go ahead and release that order?""Do you think we should wait any longer than we already have?""Can anyone think of a good reason not to discipline Joe?"

Each question assumes an answer: You clearly think you should release the order, stop waiting, and write Joe up. Though a few people may disagree, most won"t--the answer you want to hear is obvious.

"What do you think we should do about that order?""Programming isn"t complete yet. What do you think we should do?""What do you think is the best way to deal with Joe"s situation?"

Each is objective and direct, and does not tastecraftedmcd.comlude an answer in the question. And each also leaves room for a variety of options, which won"t happen when...

You have a quality problem and have thought of two possible solutions. There are positives and negatives to both. So you seek input from a team member. "Should we just scrap everything and rework the whole job," you ask, "or should we ship everything and hope the customer doesn"t notice?"

Most people will pick one answer or the other. But what if there"s a better option you haven"t considered?

Or maybe she"ll say, "What if we tell the customer up front there is a problem, ship everything to them, and take a crew to their warehouse to sort product. That reduces the impact on the customer. They can use whatever is good and won"t have to wait for the entire job to be rerun."

Either/or questions, just like leading questions, assume some answer. Instead of sharing options, just state the problem. Then ask, "What do you think?" Or "What would you do?" Or "How should we handle this?"

Asking questions can make you feel vulnerable when you"re in a leadership role. (You"re supposed to have all the answers, right?) That makes it hard to ask questions when you don"t understand--especially when you"re supposed to understand.

"I"m impressed. Now pretend I don"t know anything about how that works. How would you explain it to me?""That sounds really good. Let me make sure I don"t miss anything, though. Can you walk me through it one more time?"Or, best of all: "I have to be honest: I"m not sure I understand what you"re saying, but I really want to." (A little humility goes a long way.)

Above all, don"t pretend you understand when you don"t--all you do is waste the other person"s time and make the person wonder later why you didn"t try his or her idea.

Feel free to state the problem or issue in detail, but limit your question to one sentence. "How can we tastecraftedmcd.comrease productivity?" "How can we improve quality?" "What would you do if you were me?" Sticking to one sentence helps ensure your questions are open ended.

But keep in mind those rarely are the only options. The odds that you"ve already thought of everything are pretty slim.

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You may think you know the answer. Great. Keep that to yourself. Make your questions answer-neutral.