Ask the right questions to generate the right responses

Anusha Balasubramanian
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A manager’s responsibility goes beyond mere supervision. Among other duties, one ought to have the ingenuity to ask one’s employees the right questions to generate the right responses and required actions. To elaborate, a manager has to ask thoughtful questions to each member in the team and take the time to genuinely find out what matters to them.

Active listening is needed to understand and interpret correctly their responses. Consequently, ask better questions so that the outcome will be a motivated, proactive and thoughtful workforce whose work will be valuable.Here are some pointers on how managers can ask the right questions:

Questioning for effectiveness

Most managers are known for their authoritative line of questioning on project deadlines, timelines and employees always respond to a structured format of questions. According to Robert Gray, president of Insightlink Communications, a Los Angeles based firm that conducts workplace surveys by using market research data, “If the manager’s questions aren’t framed properly, or if they are too vague or too specific, it is impossible to gather any meaningful data.” Hence, it is important for a manager to ask meaningful questions that will help employees do some research about the issue and come with up their own solutions. This kind of an approach will help employees become self-reliant, independent thinkers and problem solvers and is also the right kind of management style.

Asking open-ended questions is another effective tool that managers can use to empower their employees to do their own problem-solving. Many times, the toughest questions can’t be answered with a straightforward “yes” or “no”. The challenge lies in asking employees questions that make them tap into their analytical thinking skills and be able to see the problem from various perspectives. For instance, “Why do you think this outcome resulted from a particular action?” or “What are some possible solutions that would address a certain challenge the team is facing on a project?”

Setting aside your opinion

As a manager, one of the hardest aspects of coaching and making your employees think for themselves is by putting your own opinions to rest. Keep in mind that your goal is to encourage your employees to ruminate and find their own solutions and not to get them to act the way you would have solved the problem. Try and ask questions that have several options, rather than one correct response. For example, “What are some of the merits and demerits of this plan?” is more useful than asking, “Wouldn’t it be better if you handled the issue in this manner?”

Thinking outside the box

Part of a manager’s coaching responsibility is to allow employees to think outside the norms and come up with creative and innovative solutions to business problems. Under such circumstances, it is okay to ask questions that are unconventional so that employees will be inspired to think ingeniously. For example, you could ask,” If you had no time constraints or fiscal restrictions, how would you resolve this issue? Can you apply similar ideas to our current situation to stay within scope?”

To sum up, as a manager, when your employees are facing hurdles or are performing their routine work, they may come to you for help and guidance. While your first instinct will be to give instructions or directions on the next steps, you need to pause for a moment and allow your employees to do their own problem solving.

This will help them develop the skills needed to grow and deliver good performance. For them to do that, you can help them by asking them the right kind of questions that will generate the required response and action.

Anusha Balasubramanian




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