Ask the right question, and it’s the start of a great discussion. Ask the wrong question, and you bring the conversation to an abrupt end.
In an interesting article on How to Ask Better Questions, Judith Ross says that questions can empower the other person by conveying respect and encouraging the development of their problem-solving skills. Or they can disempower the other person and undercut their self confidence by focusing on failure or on promoting the questioner’s personal agenda.
Ross states that, "the most effective and empowering questions create value in one or more of the following ways:
1. They create clarity: "Can you explain more about this situation?"
2. They construct better working relations: Instead of "Did you make your sales goal?" ask, "How have sales been going?"
3. They help people think analytically and critically: "What are the consequences of going this route?"
4. They inspire people to reflect and see things in fresh, unpredictable ways: "Why did this work?"
5. They encourage breakthrough thinking: "Can that be done in any other way?"
6. They challenge assumptions: "What do you think you will lose if you start sharing responsibility for the implementation process?"
7. They create ownership of solutions: "Based on your experience, what do you suggest we do here?" "
It’s well worth reading the full article.