Yes, There is Such Thing as a Stupid Question

Yep, you read that right. There is a way to ask a stupid question: asking the wrong one.

When we aren’t able to get the information we need from the questions we ask, there’s room for improvement in the way we pose our questions. Asking the right questions can improve both our professional and personal worlds by providing us with insight into situations, issues and interactions we didn’t have previously.

Whether you’re a supervisor trying to help a struggling employee, a business owner trying to best serve your clients, or an employee looking for direction, the way we pose a question can be the dividing line between obtaining insight or continuing confusion. If you’re looking to improve the quality of information flow in your life, try these five things out.

1. Determine a mutually convenient time to talk.

While it may seem obvious, finding a suitable time to ask others questions is a key part of getting the answers we seek. Surprisingly, people fail to do this all too often. Catching someone in the elevator on the way to lunch, in the hallway on the way to a meeting, or in an office drive-by while they are focused on something else virtually guarantees we won’t get a satisfactory response. Catching people while they’re distracted means they are not thinking about our question. Instead of catching people off guard, get your questions on their radar by letting them know you’d like to talk to them at their next availability. That way when you connect, you’ll have their full attention.

2. Plan the questions for a desired outcome.

When we are the recipient of someone’s full attention, we want to make the most of the time we have. That means asking questions that provide useful answers and create value by enabling people to reflect on what they know.  You’ll have the best chance of accomplishing both goals with open-ended questions. As we learned in our childhood English classes, sentences that begin with any of the “5 W’s” or “How” are the best places to start, as experts believe Who What When Where Why and How tend to result in a “high probability of thoughtful responses.”

3. Be short, sweet and okay with silence.

Our questions should be brief and our silence should be long. There’s a good reason for this: if we spend all of our time talking rather than listening, we won’t be any better informed when our interaction is over.

Once the question is posed, it’s important that we be comfortable with the sound of silence. It’s ok if the responder doesn’t begin to speak immediately. All too often, people get nervous during the open space between a question and an answer and try to fill the void with more questions, inadvertently leading the responder to a particular answer. This is a mistake. It’s important for people to answer honestly and not simply give the answer we’ve led them to believe we are looking for. You’ve planned out and asked a good question, now give them adequate time to respond.

4. Take time to comprehend what’s been said.

Once we’ve been given an answer, it’s essential that we make sure we understand it. A helpful trick is to rephrase what’s been said in our own words. If we find that we still don’t quite understand, it’s perfectly reasonable to ask someone to explain the answer differently. Ask follow-up questions that dig deeper at the source of the question. Phrases like “What makes you say that?” or “What did you mean by that?” or “Why do you think that?” can lead to additional thoughts you may not have been privy to otherwise.

5. It’s okay to interrupt.

We don’t recommend interjecting with our own monologue when the other person is speaking. However, it’s important to interrupt if you find the conversation is moving off topic. By using additional questions, you can help keep the session on track and clarify statements. At the same time, strategically interrupting with additional questions shows the interviewee how interested you are in their answers. Everyone likes to feel interesting – so it’s a win-win scenario.

What tricks of the trade have you learned to incorporate into your question asking so that you receive the best information possible? Post your additional advice on our Facebook page!