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Effective Communication in the Workplace: Good and Bad Questions to Ask at Work

Updated on August 6, 2013
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I'm a dad, husband, and Christian first. The rest are just life's add-ons: an educator & organizational development professional.

The right questions matter to business success
The right questions matter to business success | Source

Employee feedback is crucial in business innovation. However, many managers and supervisors simply sap out the creativity of their employees by asking the wrong questions. Phil McKinley, the author of Beyond the Obvious: Killer Questions that Spark Game-Changing innovations explicitly says that there are good and bad questions. Questions that are considered good allow people to think and express themselves. On the other hand, poor questions limit and shut down people.

Effective communication is the fundamental source of useful information. Moreover, the right questions will elicit productive feedback. Unfortunately, many questions actually sap the creativity from the employees.

Are you consious about the type of questions you ask people in your office?

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Questions that hamper productive and effective communication

Yes or no questions

There is none like the yes or no question when it comes to draining the creative juice in people. Obviously, these questions limit the response of the employees. Fundamentally, when information and suggestions are needed, YES or NO is just not enough. How can you get meaningful feedback with a yes or no?

  • Can you complete the project on time?
  • Do you like the new customer service software?

Pseudo questions

This is another deplorable way to ask questions to employees. Furthermore, these are merely statements in the guise of questions. Unmistakably, rhetorical questions comfortably rest in this category. Other pseudo questions simple seek agreement or validation from employees rather than actually asking for their feedbacks and inputs. McKinley called these “tag questions”.

  • This is a good marketing plan right?
  • So you won’t have a problem working with this new guy?
  • Everything is in place who would think of cancelling now?

How often have you had the chance to ask a question but failed to ask the right one? Whether you are a manager or a staff, avoiding these two types of questions can improve your workplace communication.

With a few practice you can turn questions into productive tools at work.


Questions that empower and encourage employee creativity

Obviously open ended questions are more productive than mere yes and no questions. Here are some ways you can ask open-ended questions:

Opinion questions

Every individual may have different points of view on a single topic. By allowing the employees to share their opinions, the company can create a larger collection of information.

  • How would the new policy affect your performance?
  • How else can the company improve its customer service?

"What if" questions

These types of questions allow the employees to create scenarios in their heads and offer numerous outcomes. Moreover, different points of views can be explored giving a broader perspective on the topic.

  • How would you react to the new store policy if you were the client?
  • What reactions can we expect if we extended mall hours?
  • What would you do questions?

"What else" questions

Similar to what if questions, these types of questions prompts employees to search of alternatives. This is crucial when the company wants to study its options.

  • How else can we improve service time?
  • What alternative to our current CRM program can suggest?

Synthesis questions

Synthesis question is high up Bloom’s taxonomy. This can be a powerful tool for employers to find useful applications, inferences and evaluations from employees.

  • What have you learned from latest customer complaint reports?
  • How can we apply the latest market research findings in our marketing drives?

Make no mistake about it creative employees can help innovate the business. However, poor questions limit their opportunity to provide meaningful feedback. With the right questions, you can involve them and reap the benefits of maximizing their potential.

Every person in the company can contribute to this productive change only if everyone understands the benefits of asking the right questions. Effective workplace communication can definitely improve your organization's productivity.


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