Words Matter #12: Design and deliver better questions


Your middle school teacher said, “There are no dumb questions.”

What they didn’t tell you is that there are plenty of poorly designed and delivered questions.

Questions are the bedrock of effective communication, understanding, and connection.

Consider what makes a powerful question:

  • Design: Effective questions are equal parts science and art. Practice these concepts and experience firsthand how they work:

    • Seek understanding. Begin your questions with: what, why, how, or tell me about. “What might make this project more effective going forward?” Move beyond questions that merely provide a yes/no response.

    • Embrace minimalism. If your question resembles a run-on-sentence it can be confusing. Consider using fewer words: “Why do you think that happened?” Or, “Tell me more about that.”

    • Avoid multiple choice. One question at a time. Instead of “What do you think— should we continue down this road or change direction?”, stick with the initial question, “What do you think?”.

    • Make it safe. Give people the space to explore their own thoughts. Invite insight: “From your perspective, how can we make our process more effective?”

  • Delivery: Crafting effective questions involves more than choosing the right words. How you come across impacts your listener’s receptivity. Be sure to use:

    • Curious tone. Your tone reveals your motive. Are you interested or bored? Genuine or manipulative? Discovering or accusing? Make sure your tone portrays the sincerity of your words.

    • Inviting gestures. Your face and posture tell a story. Are you welcoming or threatening? If you want to create an environment where truth is exchanged, be aware of the message your body is sending.

Limit your telling and expand your asking.

Words matter; design and deliver better questions.

Click to hone your skills with another topic in the Words Matter series:

Words Matter #11: Earn your audience's attention

Words Matter #10: Choose learning over knowing

Words Matter #9: Say what you want

Words Matter #8: Maximize your conversational influence

Words Matter #7: Face your truth

Words Matter #6: Aim to impact; not impress

Words Matter #5: What’s love got to do with it?

Words Matter #4: Don’t contaminate the conversation

Words Matter #3: It's not about you

Words Matter #2: Three dead-weight words to leave behind

Words Matter #1: Communicate with power