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Learning from Journalists – 15 ways to ask better questions

February 4, 2013

Journalists are among the least trusted of all professions, yet there’s still a thing or two they can teach managers.


Follow our 15 tips from journalists on asking questions and becoming a better manager

To manage effectively we need to have good insight. A primary source for insight is those around us, not just our own team but our peers, customers and those that lead us. Good questioning leads to good insight and from this good decisions can be taken.

“I keep six honest serving men (they taught me all I knew); their names are
What and Why and When And How And Where and Who.” ― Rudyard Kipling

If you’ve ever regretted a recruiting decision you will have reflected on the interview, chastising yourself for not fully probing into past accomplishments, reasons for leaving or motivations. So here are some pointers for good questioning:

  • The first answer is rarely THE answer.
  • Finish the sentence at the question mark.
  • Don’t include possible answers in the question. For example, ‘Why were you late – was the traffic bad?’
  • Get comfortable with silence, it gives the respondent thinking time.
  • Never accept an answer without supporting evidence.
  • Start with “who, what, when, where, how, or why” for more meaningful answers.
  • Don’t fish for the answer you want – accept the answer you are given.
  • Prepare – think about the respondent and plan your questions.
  • Use body language – nod if you agree, look puzzled if you don’t.
  • If you get a non-answer, immediately approach it again from a different angle.
  • Listen. Repeat the answer in your own words – if you have the wrong interpretation, it will help get to the truth.
  • Be direct.
  • Always ask, even the dumb questions.
  • It’s okay to interrupt a long winded answer with another question.
  • The worst question is the unasked question.

Go on, get curious, you’ll be amazed at what you’ll discover.

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