Questioning Skills In Leadership And Coaching

Questioning skills is the second of two really important skills for leadership I’m sharing with you today, you can check out the first one here. If you prefer to read than watch the video, scroll down a bit.

It’s great if we’re able to listen really well because that enables us to identify what the key questions and most effective questions are that we need to ask.

Now, most of us will, unconsciously, use open, probing, reflecting, and closed questions in our everyday conversation. However, few of us will actually realise the benefit of being able to generally structure a questioning process in a way to make it really far more effective.

Using Open Questioning Skills

Some of the things that we consider here, are using open questions in place of closed questions.

The great benefit of using open questions is that it encourages or tends to promote a thought-through and a fully considered response or answer from the other person.

Closed questions usually start with…

  • If
  • Are
  • Is
  • Do

These generally only requires a simple yes or no response and therefore doesn’t require a whole lot of consideration or thought and are very easily influenced by the leader. People will tell you what they think you want to hear, or, worst-case scenario, tell you what they know will make you go away quickest, by giving you a yes or no answer.

Replace them with open questions instead, use…

  • Who
  • Why
  • Where
  • What
  • When
  • Which
  • How

By using those words to prefix your questions, you will be encouraging people to think through a more considered, and less influenced-by-you, answer. Therefore, they will be more genuine.

Supplementing or following those up with a probing question, which can still be an open question primarily, you can start to drill down into the core or the root cause of the situation or the concern or how the task needs to be done.

How To Structure Your Questions

You can have the great power of combining some of the active, reflective listening with your own questioning skills, with reflective questioning. Do this by summarising or recapping or paraphrasing in a reflective way what you’ve covered, agreed or discussed so far.

At that point you can then move into a closed question like; Do you understand? Are you okay? Is everything clear? Because then when they give you a yes/no answer, you’re probably getting a whole lot more commitment and engagement and it’ll be a more genuine yes or no rather than a simple, superficial one.

So, by being able to generally structure questions in an open, probing, reflective, and closed funnel style, that enables you to get much better quality information and a higher level of commitment or engagement out of the other end.

It could sound a little bit like this, where you start with your open questions…

“How are you going to go about this piece of work? What do you feel you need to do first?”

And then you can drill down into that and say…

“When you say you have some concerns, what specifically are they? How can I help with those concerns? Why do you feel you should do it this particular way? What are the risks of doing it this way? What are the benefits of taking this approach?”

And then reflecting back on them, saying…

“So, you’ll feel comfortable about most parts of this job however, you need me to give you a little bit of help here. I’m going to pop along in a couple of hours and see how you’re getting on and give you a hand with that part of it. We’re going to get Phil to work with you on this so you feel you should be able to get this completed by the end of the day.”

Then when I say…

“Is that right?” or “Are you okay with that?” and they give me a yes/no answer, chances are it’s going to be a more genuine, more engaged and more committed response.

So, in very quick summary, the skill is to

  • Start to experiment with using more open questions
  • Minimise closed questions, particularly early on in the coaching, mentoring or conversation
  • Be prepared to drill down and search out for root causes by using open probing questions
  • Have the maturity and skill to be able to paraphrase or summarise back and reflect on what you’ve covered so far, whatever that might be
  • Then ask for a commitment or a call to action with a yes/no response

Because when you do it in that way, you’ll end up with a more committed and a more genuine reply. So remember your questioning skills structure as; open, probing, reflective, and closed. Get into the habit of using that until you develop a level of authenticity and a natural approach to it.

Don’t let it compromise your personal style otherwise it won’t work. Authenticity, above all else, is key when it comes to leadership.

If you need help with developing your listening or questioning skills, to improve your leadership and bottom line, get in touch. I can help you.