Asking Questions Is An Art And A Science

One of essentials of effective leadership is the ability to formulate and ask essential questions, and then to have the ability to listen completely. Thomas Berger wrote, “The art and science of asking questions is the source of all knowledge.”

In over thirty years of working with, training, qualifying and developing leaders, I have found that few have the expertise or ability to prepare sufficiently to even know what to ask. Effective leaders must be carefully trained to listen carefully to be able to formulate relevant questions, and then have the patience and persistence to listen to responses, and then ask appropriate and delving follow up questions.

1. How does a leader learn to effectively listen? The first step is to approach conversation or occurrence as something fresh and new, and to avoid preconceived notions, prejudices or biases. The other necessity is to be certain that you understand what someone else is asking or voicing as a concern, so as to respond appropriately, and to avoid opening up a Pandora’s Box, by answering another issue that the person was not originally concerned about.

When this error occurs, it often brings about additional concerns in others because of the prejudice or manner of the speaker. A leader must learn to first listen attentively, and to feel free to even jot down relevant notes, when appropriate. This should be followed up by first confirming the true question or concern, before responding, perhaps inappropriately.

2. What makes a question a good question? Something is a good question when it adds to the understanding by the speaker to the concern of another. Preliminary questions should confirm the concern, by asking something such as, “So you’re concerned about..?” Before continuing, it is important to patiently await confirmation and/ or clarification. Other good questions begin with phrases such as, “Wouldn’t it make sense?” or “What would you like to see?”

The procedure becomes an art because it is not simply a dissertation of words meant to appease? Asking delving questions should lead to greater and further understanding and clarification, which then should permit an adequately trained leader to appropriately respond to the concern.

While the tweaking and personality inclusions are part of the art part of the equation, the precision and clarity should be a near science. All great leaders excel because they can take and respond well to questions and concerns, as well as ask questions to assist in their understanding. Body language, eye contact, voice tone, etc., all become essential parts of the equation, as well.


By John Vaughan