Only some people know how to ask good questions.
While it seems easy, asking good questions is a craft that takes time and effort to perfect. You’ve probably asked the wrong question from time to time. That’s okay — you’re here to learn now.
Once you master this art, you’ll have a powerful tool available. Asking the right questions is crucial for good conversation flow and efficiency.
How can you start asking better questions?
Effective communication is vital for all relationships. Learning what questions to ask can improve how you work with team members, your leadership skills, and how you communicate with loved ones.
Here are nine tips on how you can start asking better questions:
1. Be a good listener.
Pay attention when someone gives you an answer or explains something to you. If you don’t listen properly, you may ask already-answered questions. By focusing on listening, you’ll avoid asking general questions to which you should probably know the answer.
When someone else is speaking, make eye contact and use body language such as nodding and leaning in to showcase that you understand and are engaged.
2. Don’t be afraid of your questions.
If you’re confused about something, you have every right to ask for clarity. Maybe it’s your first time trying a new recipe or doing a task, and you want to do it properly.
The wrong questions don’t exist — especially if you’ve never done this before. Think about it this way: if you don’t ask your question, you may make some easily avoidable mistakes.
3. Do your research.
Do you fully understand what you’re asking and why? It may seem redundant, but make sure you know what you’re asking. Improve your focus by honing in on what you’re confused about.
Think about your intentions so you can craft questions that’ll give you meaningful responses. Consider the following:
- Are you looking for data or an opinion?
- How formal or informal do you have to be when posing your question?
- Are you looking for confirmation or insight, answers or explanation?
- Do you know what you’ll find out, or will the information be surprising?
- Are you seeking common ground or empathy from the other person?
If your question is too vague or confusing, you won’t get the answer you need. People can’t answer questions properly if you don’t set them up to succeed. Dive into your subject, and don’t be afraid to go beyond a surface-level question.
4. Go where the conversation takes you.
Everyone goes off-topic sometimes, but that’s not always a bad thing. The conversation can flow in many different directions before or after your question is answered. Rather than panic and think you have to only discuss the question, see where the conversation goes.
You may find that the conversation prompts follow-up questions or answers to questions you planned to ask before voicing them. Try to relax, and don’t think every question-asking instance has to be formal.
5. Use silence to your advantage.
Question-asking isn’t supposed to be a fast-paced conversation. Pausing to listen between answers gives you time to think about what was said and ask better follow-up questions.
Don’t feel pressured to respond quickly. Fast responses can mess with the conversation’s flow. You don’t want to feel rushed or rush others, so learn to get comfortable with silence and give yourself time to think.
6. Ask probing questions
Probing questions are great for promoting critical thinking, learning something new, or understanding how a person thinks.
A question that engages and prompts the other person to explore their thoughts demonstrates you’re curious about what they have to say. And asking questions that encourage exploring emotions and ideas will lead to more fruitful conversations.
Here are a few examples:
- What do you think is the best solution for the new app’s development?
- How did you decide this was the right course of action?
- What are you afraid will happen if we do this?
- What will we do if our worst-case scenario comes true?
7. Keep your questions short
A long-winded question shows a lack of self-awareness. It can end up confusing someone more than it should. You want to include enough information in your query to summarize what you’re looking for in a response, but not so much that it becomes overwhelming.
The person you’re asking should only have to hear your question once, not three or four times. Focusing on asking open-ended questions in one sentence can still set up a good conversation.
8. Get your sequence right.
Have empathy for the other party. Not everyone can open up right away and answer personal questions with ease. That’s why you should know how much trust you have with the person and keep their feelings in mind.
If you’re having a long conversation with lots to cover, put some thought into the order of your questions. You might not want to start with sensitive or challenging questions. Start by asking basic, easy questions before getting into emotional ones.
9. Use the appropriate tone.
All questions have different purposes and meanings behind them. Some are serious, while others are light-hearted and fun. It’s important to know when you must have a professional or serious tone and when you can be casual.
Being flexible and adjusting your style is key. Being overly formal in every situation can make people uncomfortable and inhibit their willingness to share information. When you ask your next question, take note of the vibes in the room or with the person you’re talking to.