Leaders to Leader

Lessons from the Great American Leaders & How They Apply Now

Leaders Need to Focus on Questions Rather Than Offering Answers

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The tactical approach to questioning is a highly disciplined process. The questioner must take on the role of acting as “an inner critical voice,” which expands another’s mind to skillfully develop deeper critical thinking abilities.

Questioning for thought provoking insight and understanding, and for inducing more in-depth thinking in another individual requires a tactical approach. For instance, verbal contributions that come from employees when they are questioned can be compared to an array of numerous thoughts that simultaneously flow from one’s mind. Yet, all of the thoughts must be dealt with, weighed, and carefully analyzed in an unbiased and fair manner.

If leaders or managers follow up on all of the answers initially given by employees with further questions that work to advance the discussion, employees are forced to think in a disciplined, intellectually responsible manner. At the same time the questioning process continually aids their own personal agenda to gain more insight and knowledge through posing selective, yet effective facilitating discussion lead-ins.

The oldest and still most powerful tool for instilling critical thinking and mental self-evaluation, is questioning. In order to glean and gather as much usable information as possible, and to change individual perceptions about something, leaders and managers must remain focused on interjecting questions to employees, rather than offering answers.

It is important to practice and model the inquiry process, by continually probing employees on topics, subject-related contexts or mental thinking patterns through the use of very specific questions. The abilities individuals gain by becoming involved in the process and by focusing on the elements of reasoning in a disciplined and self-assessing way tend to enhance employees’ sensitivity to others’ points of view, problem solving and decision making skills. A solid questioning process also helps provide a more balanced mental structure and framework to use in the future, which results from generating and incorporating logical mental relationships that tend to enhance more disciplined thought.

There are three basic ways to instill changes and alterations in employees’ thinking: questioning them for viewpoints and perspectives, questioning them for implications and consequences, and questioning them about the question being asked.

Questioning for Viewpoints and Perspectives

As the discussion and questioning leader, it is important encourage employees to slow their thinking down in order to elaborate upon their responses. Employees must be given the opportunity to develop and test their ideas, standpoints and opinions. Leaders must take employee responses seriously and determine to what extent and in what way the information or assertion is true, or if it makes sense. In order to do this, they need to wonder aloud what the employee is saying and thinking, what the person means, the response’s significance, its relationship to other beliefs, and how what is being said can be tested for its reliability.

Most arguments employees give are from a particular, yet structured point of view. As part of the “questioning for viewpoints and perspectives” process, it is essential to attack the argument from a tactical position. It is often necessary to demonstrate that there may be other, equally valid, viewpoints. Some examples of specific questions that are able to generate alternative viewpoints include:

  • What else could be accomplished by doing ____?
  • If we don’t have access to ____ or can’t use ____, what do you think should be done?
  • What are the positives and negatives of ____?
  • How do you think ____ and ____ are alike?
  • Another way to think about this is ____, do you agree?

Implications and Consequences Questions

The argument that employees often give may have logical implications, which can be forecasted. From an “implications and consequence questioning” position, employees should have their arguments challenged. The process requires them to think about if their argument or stance makes sense from a logical standpoint, and if what they say, is desirable and meaningful. Some examples of argument challenging questions include:

  • What are you implying by saying that?
  • What else does this remind you of?
  • How does this information fit into the things we have already learned?
  • What implications does ____ have on this?
  • Why is this necessary to know?
  • What do you think would happen next?
  • What is an alternative to this?
  • If what you said happened, what else could happen as a result? Why?

Questions About the Question

Questions about the question tend to be more reflective. Their purpose is to turn an argument, statement or question back onto itself. In other words, leaders can use questions like the ones below to bounce the ball back onto the employees’ personal argument, position or stance:

  • How can we find out more about what you are saying (or asking)?
  • What assumptions does this question imply?
  • Why do you feel this question is important?
  • To answer this particular question, what questions would have to be answered first?
  • Does this certain question ask us to evaluate something in particular?
  • What is the point of asking about ____?
  • Why do you think the question you asked is important for (me, us) to consider?
  • Why did you phrase this particular question in the way that you did?
  • Does this question fit into the context of our discussion?
  • What does this particular (question, stance, position or opinion) imply?
  • Is it possible to break this question down at all into one or two other ones?
  • Do you think this question is an easy or hard one to answer? Why?
  • Does this question seem clear to you?

Excerpt: Effective Questioning Techniques: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) $ 19.95 USD


Why Is The Person Asking The Question In The First Place?

Making the Questions as Important as the Answers

Correctly Framing Problems Pinpoints the Right Solution

For Additional Information the Author Recommends the Following Books:

The Use and Application of Advanced Questioning: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series

Effective Questioning in the Workplace: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series

Developing Critical Thinking Skills: The Pinpoint Management Skill Development Training Series

Comprehensive Questioning: The Pinpoint Management Skill Development Training Series

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved


5 Responses

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  1. Timothy, you’re quite right that questioning is crucial to effective leadership. Equally as important though are the two things that happen next. First, the questioner must be quiet – that way the respondent feels they have to fill the silence. Second, when the person does speak, it’s crucial to listen and respond. Without really taking interest in what someone is saying the entire process is, sadly, worthless.

    Ara ohanian (@aohanian)

    February 28, 2013 at 7:02 am

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