Be Careful How You Ask Questions

In a workshop one time, I was speaking with participants about communication strategies to resolve conflicts between team members.  I shared with them that a genuine sense of curiosity about the other person’s perspective often goes a long way towards resolution, and that this sense of curiosity often reveals itself by the questions we ask of the other person during the conflict conversation.

As we discussed the value of good question asking technique, it became clear to me that most of us do not naturally ask good questions. Rather than ask questions for the real purpose of gathering more information and better understanding of the other person, we make statements disguised as questions. For example:

  • “Can’t you see that I’m working here?”
  • “Were you going to pick those papers up from the floor, or were you going to leave them there?”
  • “You did realize that you were supposed to clean this equipment after using it, didn’t you?”
  • “Were you late for a reason?”

While these questions might come from a curious mind, they are more often said with a bit of a sarcastic edge so that they indirectly communicate our displeasure with another person. Rather than make statements disguised as questions, make a statement when you have a statement, and ask a question when you really want to understand. The above questions could be re-phrased like this:

  • “I’m busy at the moment. Could we discuss this later?”
  • “When you leave papers on the floor, I feel overwhelmed by the clutter. Could you pick them up, please?”
  • “John, our expectation here is that everyone cleans the equipment that they use. Could you take care of that for the job you just completed?”
  • “Bill, I noticed that you were late again this morning. That behavior is beginning to become a challenge. Can we schedule a time to discuss how to improve in this area?”

When you find yourself in a conflict, watch your intent when you ask questions. Make sure you stay  focused on understanding the other person and not on communicating your displeasure with a poison question.

Originally posted here.