The Power of Asking Great Questions


If you are having challenges with an employee and you are not quite sure what is going on for them and WHY they aren't performing, then the very best way to understand an employee's problems is to ask some questions rather than making assumptions or jumping to conclusions.

There are three main types of questions: 

1.       The open question – usually starts with the words – what, when, where, why, how. It leaves space for the person you are talking to to fill in the gaps. It requires more involvement from the employee because you haven’t made any assumptions at the beginning of the conversation; you are genuinely trying to find out what is going on for the employee. So questions like, ‘I’m concerned that you seem to be having challenges getting to work on time – can you tell me about that or,  ‘How do you see the problem of xyz?’ or ‘What do you think you can do about this?’

2.       The closed question – which will only illicit a yes or no answer. At the beginning of a conversation with an employee, I’d strongly recommend staying right away from closed questions because it doesn’t leave an opening to investigate what is going on in a given situation. Yet there are times when this is the very best kind of question to ask when performance is being discussed – for example –  ‘Do you believe you can overcome this problem?’ ‘Do you agree that this problem must be addressed?’ 

AND THEN WAIT FOR THEM TO ANSWER – don’t feel the need to find the answer for them! 

3.       The boomerang question. This is perfect when it seems the employee is trying to avoid answering your questions. They may say something along the lines of ‘I don’t know what to say, what do YOU think I should do (putting the ball back in the manager’s court). The boomerang response to someone trying to send a question back to the originator. ‘That’s a good question – but it really doesn’t matter what I think – it is what you think that is important. What do you think?’ 

Some people are just naturally good at asking questions but for others it is something we have to work on. Like any new skill, the very best thing you can do if you feel you are NOT good at asking great questions, is to practice. If you practice the 3 basic questions above you may surprise yourself at how skilled you become.


Ann Andrews CSP


MD The Corporate Toolbox


Ann Andrews CSP specialises in working with high performing teams and showing managers how to deal with poor performance.

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