How to ask the right question to get a useful answer

The right question is: what is it?

A correctly asked question does not force the interlocutor to answer. Competent wording makes the interlocutor want to think carefully and give an answer.

It is believed that the ability to pose a question is one of the necessary qualities of an intelligent and insightful person.

Common mistakes

Psychologists have identified several typical mistakes made, in particular, by managers in communicating with subordinates.

  1. Having asked the interlocutor a question, the leader does not pause, does not wait for an answer, but immediately begins to speak himself. Meanwhile, during a pause, a person can think about the answer, and the manager can track his non-verbal reaction.
  2. The boss immediately asks several questions. As a result, he does not receive important information, because the interlocutor does not answer all questions, but only the ones that are most convenient for him. If you consistently ask question after question and receive answers to them, the leader thereby advances the conversation towards the desired goal.
  3. The boss asks a question and answers it himself. There can be no talk of any information content here! However, in some cases, such a technique may be associated with a certain psychological pressure on the interlocutor, but if the leader does not pursue such a goal, then it is clearly more productive to interact in the form of dialogue.
  4. The boss asks a question, but takes the trouble to listen to the answer to the end. In the middle he interrupts the interlocutor because he decided that everything was already clear. But, firstly, it is impolite towards another person, and secondly, it prevents you from correctly understanding the speaker’s thoughts.

If your job involves communicating with people, you will have to master the art of asking questions. This will make you not only an effective leader, but also a professional in your field. So ask questions, listen to the answers and make the right decisions.

© Ilyina Natalia, BBF.RU

Why is it so important to be able to ask the right questions?

The fact is that we are surrounded by such a huge amount of information that if we do not learn to sort and accept only the important, an unforgivably large amount of time and money will be spent searching for what we need.

This is especially important for business, because time is money. And by asking your partners the right questions, you can obtain the necessary information and build a further strategy in connection with it. Moreover, asking questions means showing interest in people, showing that you are willing to give them time.

But inappropriate and annoying questions can scare a person away, make him “close down” and even refuse to cooperate.

Immanuel Kant was sure that only smart and insightful people are capable of asking competent questions: “A meaningless question requires a meaningless answer... In addition to shame for the questioner, it sometimes also has the disadvantage that it encourages the imprudent listener to absurd answers and creates a funny spectacle: one (by in the expression of the ancients) milks a goat, and another holds a sieve under it"

Rate yourself

Try to evaluate your ability to ask questions, and to do this, complete the following tasks.

  1. Let's say you are a teacher of Russian literature. Recently, together with your class, you analyzed Leo Tolstoy's novel Anna Karenina. In order to understand how well the students understood this work, ask them 10 questions and write them down.
  2. You are the editor-in-chief of a large magazine. The next issue was not prepared on time, the publication deadline was missed, the printing house imposed a penalty, and the executive secretary of the editorial office is to blame for this. Come up with 5-6 questions that you could ask him to establish the cause of the incident and a fair penalty.
  3. Imagine that you are an editor at a publishing house. You are preparing an editorial portfolio - selecting manuscripts for publication. Out of ten you need to choose five. Come up with 3-4 questions for those employees who have already read all the manuscripts to make it easier for you to make a choice before reading the submitted works.

What can you achieve with the right question?

If you ask the right question, it will help you achieve the following goals:

  • arouse the interest of the interlocutor, give him the opportunity to speak and provide the necessary information;
  • increase the activity of the interlocutor, involve him in dialogue;
  • manage the dialogue, directing it in the right direction;
  • keep the initiative in communication.

Not everyone can ask.
Asking questions is the lot of brave people who are not afraid to state their position and reveal their own value system to their interlocutor. But for a competent question to have an effect, it must be asked not spontaneously, but thought through in advance.

The very fact of the question tells the interlocutor that you are not only showing interest in the topic, but are also committed to positive communication

How to win over your opponent?

As you know, brevity is the sister of talent .
The question should be short, concise and clear. A complex and lengthy question may confuse your interlocutor, so you will not receive a specific answer. To prevent the interlocutor from feeling that he is under interrogation, use soft intonations. When asking a question, do it in a relaxed manner.

“For the answer to be positive, the question must be seductive.” Stas Yankovsky

Types of questions

To get important information, it is important not just to ask a question, but also to think about how to do it. There are types of questions that people are reluctant or ambivalent about answering.

Rhetoric experts recommend asking questions more often rather than delivering monologues. After all, this is how you can lead your interlocutor to the conclusion you need, without imposing your own conclusions. And this is already art!

The first thing to do is to understand the typology, and then to interest the interlocutor and let him understand that it is a matter of honor to answer in detail.

Closed question

The purpose of a closed question is to get a clear answer (yes, no). For example: “Have you reached the age of majority?”, “Do you have a driver’s license?”

Using a closed question, you can get unambiguous information: “Which university did you graduate from?” - "MSU".

The peculiarity of this type is precise and concise formulation, therefore the answer is expected to be precise and concise. Often the question begins with the pronoun “you,” a question word, or an interrogative construction. For example: “You said that...”, “Do you mind if...?”, “How many...?”, “Have you been...?”

Such questions constantly come up in student and business life. But their excessive use is undesirable, as it creates a tense atmosphere. They reduce the fluidity of the conversation, and the interlocutor may feel like they are being interrogated.

The purpose of a closed question is often not to obtain information yourself, but rather to obtain consent or confirmation of previously obtained data. (Is the cargo expected on Thursday? – No, on Friday.)

Open question

Here it is no longer possible to answer briefly, since an open question requires an explanation.

You can recognize such questions by the interrogative words “why”, “why”, “how”, “what do you think”, etc. Such formulations allow you to obtain more detailed data and find out the real motives of your interlocutor.

The peculiarity of such questions is as follows:

  • the interlocutor ponders the statement, constantly being in an active state;
  • the interlocutor has a chance to select information for the opponent at his own discretion;
  • an open question removes barriers between interlocutors and removes the feeling of restraint and isolation from the opponent;
  • the partner does not feel pressure, because he understands that he is the owner of important information, ideas, and proposals.

But in an open question, the interlocutor can avoid a clear answer, giving only the information that he considers necessary. Therefore, you need to be prepared for additional leading, secondary, main and other questions.

Suggestive questions

They are formulated in such a way as to suggest to the interlocutor the answer that is expected from him. By their content, they make the expected answer obvious.

For example: “You know that this is illegal?”, “Isn’t this contrary to the charter?”

Leading questions most often contain clue words:

  • Isn't it possible?
  • Certainly,
  • after all,
  • Same,
  • is not it.

There are also major, minor and follow-up questions. They can be thought out in advance or asked spontaneously. The purpose of such questions is to clarify what was heard.

Alternative questions

An alternative question is an open-ended question that offers the interlocutor several options for answers or invites him to say his own.

For example: “How did you become a lawyer: did you consciously choose your profession, follow in the footsteps of your parents, or go out with a friend?”

They are used when they want to get their interlocutor talking. But it is important that all alternatives are neutral and do not offend the opponent.


A rhetorical question

This question does not require a direct answer. It is asked when they want to provoke a certain reaction: to emphasize, gain support, remind about unresolved problems.

For example: “When will people understand each other?”

It is important that the rhetorical question is brief, relevant, and understandable to everyone present. If the answer is silence, most likely the interlocutor agrees and approves of your point of view.

The turning point question

They will keep the conversation strictly on track or raise a whole range of issues. With their help, you can identify weak points in your partner’s opinion.

For example: “How do you see ways for your profession to develop?”

This question is appropriate if you want to smoothly move from discussing one problem to another or when you feel tension/resistance from your opponent.

Question to think about

With its help, you can summarize the conversation, carefully analyze or comment on what was said earlier.

For example: “Did I manage to convince you that...?”, “Did I understand you correctly that...?”, “Do you think that...?”

It is asked to create an atmosphere of mutual understanding and to summarize the conversation. It will help the interlocutor think about his own opinion, create a favorable ground for argumentation on the problem, and provides an opportunity to make changes to his position if they arose during the conversation.

Mirror question

It consists of repeating part of the interlocutor’s statement with interrogative information.

He does not refute or contradict the opponent’s statement, but introduces new elements into the conversation to make the dialogue open. This allows you to understand the point of view of the interlocutor.

How to ask the right question to get a positive answer

You can get what you want from others by intentionally using leading questions that encourage people to answer you affirmatively.
There is such a thing as positively asked questions, which are based on two principles:

YES is better than NO

Disagreement is a generally uncomfortable communication experience.
It could even be considered impolite behavior. When you disagree, you seem to protest the interlocutor’s argument and argue so as not to lead to a failure in communication. Compared to the risk and discomfort of disagreement (NO), agreement (YES) is generally preferable. When you ask questions, as a rule, you should “lead” the interlocutor to a positive conclusion and answer your questions.

Create by speaking

When you say something, in order for the other person to understand what you are saying, he must fully engage and understand what you are saying.
For example, if you say “don't stand up” when asking a question to a person in the audience, then the person should think about getting up instead of immediately answering you, whereas if you said “stay seated,” then all that What the person needs to do is remain in a sitting position (which, in this case, also improves their current condition) and answer your question immediately.

Therefore, when asking positive questions, you should only say what you want the other person to think about and avoid saying what you don't want the other person to spend time thinking about.

Questions that guide

Using the questions above, the other person may engage in some action or receive a different reaction.

Creating Affirmative Action

In order to get someone to answer a question positively, ask him, indicating some action, and formulate the question itself in such a way that by saying “YES”, the interlocutor comes to complete agreement and compliance on his part:

  • Will you do this work?
  • I was wondering with you, would you like to walk with me?
  • Can you help me get this to the top?
  • Would you take this item for less?

Persuasive action

In order to force a person to do something you need, which he would not like to do, your question should encourage him to do it; for this, try using the “reverse” principle in questions, examples below:

  • Do you mind very much if you do this work?
  • I know you might not want to come with me, but would you be so kind?
  • Are you only going to watch football there?
  • Will you change the price you previously announced?

Preventive action

To get someone not to do something, use the positive aspects of a negative task:

  • Would you rather do anything else?
  • Who else do you want to go with?
  • Do you want to watch football?
  • Do you want me to agree to your price?

Why ask

First of all, it is important to understand for what purpose we use a tool such as questions. It seems that the answer is quite obvious, but it is necessary to dwell on this: what we will ask and how to formulate the question itself largely depends on why we ask the question.

First, we can use questions to gather information about a problem that interests us. The main goal of such a question is to encourage our client to tell as much as possible. This is exactly what we will focus on today. Secondly, we can use questions to get feedback from the client: did we understand him correctly and how does he feel about what he heard from us. This group of questions includes, first of all, paraphrases that are well known to us, which help us find more accurate and correct wording for the client’s statements. This also includes questions that we ask after we have offered our vision of a problem situation, formulated recommendations, or talked about some psychological patterns. It is important to end any of these interventions with an open question such as: “How do you like this idea?”, “What do you think about this?”

Thirdly, the question may represent a therapeutic intervention, that is, the provision of psychological assistance: in this form, the psychologist can offer his interpretation to the client. Here, the interrogative form allows you to get away from categoricalness and invite the client to reflection: “Can we say that, watching your son grow up, you begin to fear that he will no longer need you?”

It happens that a psychologist, imperceptibly for himself, jumps from the first type of question to the third: he seems to be collecting information, but then immediately offers his own interpretation. This often becomes a stumbling block in establishing contact with a client, and at the end of the article we will look at an example of such a situation and possible ways out of it.

About desirable and undesirable responses

When asking questions aimed at obtaining information, it is extremely important to remember such a phenomenon as social desirability, that is, the tendency to give approved answers.

Let's say, when asked whether parents spend a lot of time with their child, we will most likely receive a positive answer or excuses: which parent admits that they spend little time with their child.

It may be difficult for a parent to tell a psychologist that he doesn’t care enough for his child, or for a teacher to tell him that he can be incontinent with his students. But it is precisely this kind of information that is necessary for a psychologist.

An important principle of asking questions follows from this - a “good” question should be psychologically safe, that is, not encourage socially desirable answers and assume the possibility of an “inconvenient” answer.

To avoid the influence of social desirability, you can use one of two techniques.

Firstly, it is possible to legalize a possible “undesirable” answer in the very wording of the question. In this case, the psychologist, already asking, immediately recognizes such behavior as possible and acceptable.

For example, if you are interested in parents’ attitude to lessons, you can ask something like this: “Nowadays, many parents return late from work and do not have time to check whether the child has completed his homework. How does this happen for you?”

Secondly, you can identify polar points of view in the question itself and ask the parent’s opinion on this matter. For example: “Some parents believe that the child should be praised for any action, while others believe that praise should be done less often. What do you do?”

It is very important to watch your intonation! Such questions should be asked in a neutral or friendly tone. Any hint contained in the psychologist’s intonation or tone will immediately nullify all efforts.

The main thing is specificity

The question should not be too general. General questions are extremely vague and give us equally vague and incomprehensible information. A general question can only get a general answer. For example, if you ask a client: “What is your relationship with your mother-in-law?” - you can hear in response: “Good”, “Like everyone else”, “Normal”. That is, we will receive certain conclusions that a person came to during the analysis of life experience (or conclusions that he considers necessary to tell us!), but for a psychologist specific facts are much more important. It is the facts that will allow us to formulate advisory hypotheses. General words (attitudes, behavior, aggressiveness...) can be interpreted very differently by the client and the psychologist.

Recently, a second-grader Mitya was brought to me for consultation, and Mitya’s parents were concerned about his aggression. When we began to discuss Mitya’s behavior, it turned out that Mitya was involved in athletics. After classes in the locker room, Mitya makes noise, talks loudly, runs around, and may start throwing some things at the ceiling - this is what his parents called aggressiveness. This behavior certainly indicates that the boy is overexcited, but this has nothing to do with aggression as such. Therefore, it made no sense to talk about “aggressiveness” here; it was necessary to collect as much specificity as possible.

So, if the purpose of questioning is to gather information, it is better to formulate questions specifically and avoid talking about “attitudes,” “behavior,” and other abstractions. What can you ask instead?

Firstly, it is always better to ask about what people are doing: how they spend their time, what they talk about. In this case, we will get facts, not opinions. Instead of asking “What are your family relationships like?” It’s better to ask: “What do you talk about most often with your child?”, “How do you spend your weekends?” For example, you can ask a parent to describe in detail some usual routine moment: preparing homework, going to bed, etc.

Secondly, you can ask the client to highlight the most striking moment in the situation under discussion. Let’s say a teacher talks about a student’s unacceptable behavior in class, and it’s not entirely clear what exactly angered her. Here the question “If I were present there, what would I see?” can be very successful. or “If you had to choose the highlight of this situation to photograph, what would you choose?”

I remember a very striking consultative example of the effectiveness of asking about specific behavior. A mother sought help for her first-grader son, who kept losing things at school and forgetting about errands or assignments. The teacher considered the child very childish. The mother described her son as active and independent and wondered why such difficulties arose in the first place. The psychologist asked the mother: “Do you give your child the initiative? Does he have enough independence? - and to all these questions (note in brackets - closed and overly general!) I received positive answers.

Then the psychologist asked her to tell how they get ready for school in the morning, to list the specific steps: who says and does what. And the mother began a detailed description: she wakes up her first-grader, carries him in her arms to the kitchen and feeds him, because he is still such a baby and she feels so sorry for waking him up for school!

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