Questioning is a process used to gain new information and insights on significant issues, problems, or opportunities.
All individuals have asked questions since they first demanded to know “why?” as children, but have not necessarily developed the ability to question effectively in an organizational and/or leadership setting.
When Do We Use Questioning?
Questioning is used throughout the problem solving process to gain better insight and understanding of symptoms, ramifications and complexities.
- The process depends upon asking and responding to numerous targeted questions, from the initial stages of framing the problem itself to deciding how to implement a chosen action.
Questioning is most powerful in the early stages of the problem solving process. In these early stages, questions will gather and classify data as either reliable or unreliable, as well as better define the problem being addressed.
- Getting the correct definition of the problem is crucial to all later stages of the problem solving process.
- If a problem is incorrectly identified and defined, regardless of how the solution is implemented, it can be expected to remain less effective or desirable than it could be.
Related: Seven Styles of Questioning That Sharpen Critical Thinking Skills
There are five components and six main features of the questioning process, which are important to consider. To be effective, questioning needs to be precise, and to some extent, complex. Most effective questions tend to contain the following components:
Subject matter or topic:
What, in the most general terms, is the questioning about?
Aspect or focus:
This is the angle or point of view on the subject matter. What aspect of the subject matter is the questioning about?
Instruction or comment:
This refers to question wording or phrasing. These inform the responder exactly what to think about before reacting and offering feedback.
Some questions also contain the following components:
Restrictions or expansions of the subject matter:
This is the detailed limitation of the topic; What, in specific terms, is the questioning about?
The questioner’s point of view:
This is dictated by the reasoning and goal behind the questioning process.
Related: The Four Building Blocks of Intelligent Decision Making
Questioning is to some extent complex, formal, objective, explicit, hedged, and responsible.
Questions should contain fewer words and phrases than written and conversational language. In order to obtain specific information, questions need to be dense or concentrated in terms of what is asked for. Typically using more verb-based than noun-based phrases, questions should incorporate limited vocabulary within their topical contexts.
The fact that the questioning process is relatively formal implies that effective questions generally tend to avoid colloquial words and expressions.
Questioning in an objective manner is an effective and efficient tool for gathering more appropriate and reliable information in order to make a fixed and purposeful decision, or reach an unbiased conclusion.
Within workplace environments, questioning should be far more objective than personal. The main emphasis of asking questions needs to be on the information that one wants to gain or impart by asking questions that progressively lead to self-discovery.
Effective questioning is unambiguous about the relationship between the questioner and the context of the topic being questioned. It is the responsibility of the questioner to make questions clear to the responder and to clearly demonstrate how the various parts of the topic being questioned and responded to, are related. These connections can be made explicit by the use of different signalling words within questions.
In any kind of questioning, it is necessary to make decisions about one’s stance before asking about a particular subject, or the strength of the claims being made as a result of asking certain types of questions. Question hedging is done through limiting the extent of questions for one reason or another. Diluting or polluting a question’s intent in an unclear or biased manner also does it. In either case, question hedging confuses responders and hinders the total questioning process.
In effective questioning, the questioner must be responsible for and able to provide evidence and justification for any facts or opinions that are made. The questioner is also responsible for having documented support for the questions being asked and their expected or anticipated responses.
Related: Encourage Questions to Improve Open Communication
Adapted From: Effective Questioning in the Workplace: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011)