Effective communication in the workplace
Effective communication in the workplace

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Effective communication in the workplace

3 Asking effective questions

If you are, for example, a line manager or supervisor, or you’re talking to a client, it is important to create an environment where the speaker feels that their issues/concerns/problems have been listened to. One way to do this is by asking effective questions.

Project management company Mosaic Projects (no author, no date) has produced a detailed white paper on active listening and effective questioning, which includes the following list of question types:

  • Open questions – to gather information and facts, for example: ‘What are your concerns and worries about this situation?’
  • Probing questions – to gain additional detail, e.g. ‘Can you explain why that matters?’
  • Hypothetical questions – to suggest an approach or introduce a new idea, for example ‘If you could get additional funding or resources, how might that help?’
  • Reflective questions – to check understanding, such as ‘So would you prioritise the most critical areas for attention first and make sure that everyone knew what was most important?’
  • Leading questions – are not always well received but can be used to help a person reach a conclusion or have an idea that you feel will be beneficial. For example, ‘Had you thought about giving the project leadership role to Jennifer?’
  • Deflective questions – to defuse an aggressive or defiant situation by re-directing the force of the other person’s attack, e.g.
    • Dissatisfaction: ‘I’m not happy with this project!’
    • Response: ‘What can WE do to make it right?’
  • Closing questions – to bring agreement, commitment and conclusion, e.g. ‘When will you talk to your team and the client about this?’

They explain that questions can be used for different purposes, such as to provide structure, direct flow or help us to reach closure.

Coaches use open questions to help their clients move forward and this technique can be equally useful in a conversation with colleagues, particularly if you are in a supervisory role. Activity 2 shows you the coaching process in action.

Activity 2 Open and closed questions

Timing: Allow 15 minutes for this activity

Watch this video on good questioning practice. In it you will hear both open and closed questions being used.

What observations can you make about the questioner? What type of questioning helps to encourage the speaker to give full answers?

Download this video clip.Video player: Video 2
Skip transcript: Video 2

Transcript: Video 2

NARRATOR
In this example of good questioning practise, listen out for the use of short open questions, normally beginning with what or how, and also listen out for occasional closed questions, which finish a section of coaching off.
INTERVIEWER
So you were very keen to discuss your career plans. And I'm wondering what you've been thinking about so far.
SUBJECT
Well, I have- I've given this a lot of thought actually. I know last time we talked about what direction I wanted to go in. I'm quite clear that I do want to get some managerial experience. That's the direction I want to go in, so I'm quite clear about that now.
INTERVIEWER
And what is it about managerial that appeals to you?
SUBJECT
I've spent a lot of time managing projects. And what I'd really like to do now is manage people. It's something I haven't done before, but I'm really drawn towards it. So I really do need to get some experience in this and work out how I'm going to get there.
INTERVIEWER
Right. So your thoughts are clarified towards managing people.
SUBJECT
Yes.
INTERVIEWER
I'm just wondering where that takes you now. What are your thoughts now?
SUBJECT
Well, I need to figure out exactly what the steps are in order for me to get the experience so that when I go to interview that I can show that I've got the skills required. So I need to do some research around that and probably some training as well.
INTERVIEWER
So some research and training. What kind of research do you feel you might need to do?
SUBJECT
That's a good question actually. I'm not sure at the moment. I could speak to my manager about that, and perhaps someone in HR might be able to point me in the right direction.
INTERVIEWER
So a little bit of prior research really about the research.
SUBJECT
Yes.
INTERVIEWER
And how do you see this going forward?
SUBJECT
Well, the first thing that I need to do really is to identify within my area what are the options with regards to potential promotion and to find out exactly what would be required for that role and then find some training that's relevant to those new skills I need to acquire.
INTERVIEWER
So this sounds like the beginnings of a good action plan.
SUBJECT
Yes.
INTERVIEWER
And I'm just wondering how you'll keep yourself on track.
SUBJECT
Yes. As you know, I do have a lot on at the moment. So that is a bit of a concern about how I manage that.
INTERVIEWER
So what are the potential pitfalls here?
SUBJECT
Well, I'll be honest with you. Time management's not a huge strength of mine at the moment because of my workloads. I really do need a very specific plan with timelines, and I need to spend some time prioritising.
INTERVIEWER
So what works best for you in terms of really managing your time?
SUBJECT
What really works best for me is when I can have this situation where my coaching that you can help me identify what it is that I need to do and to keep- help me keep on track with my timelines. It might help for us to have a talk around that actually.
INTERVIEWER
And how else can I support you going forward?
SUBJECT
Well, in our sessions, of course, it really helps when I can check in with you and not that I expect you to chase me up, but it's good to have- to be accountable in our sessions and to have something to aim towards.
INTERVIEWER
Sure. So keeping you clearly on track and getting things to aim towards.
SUBJECT
Yes.
INTERVIEWER
And what's the very next step?
SUBJECT
Good question. My next step has to speak to my manager. I'm going good book something in his diary, tell him that I've decided on what it is I want to do with my development and find out from him what the possibilities are for some training.
INTERVIEWER
Sounds like a plan.
SUBJECT
Yeah, I'm really looking forward to it being helpful. Thank you.
End transcript: Video 2
Video 2
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Look for opportunities to use effective questions in your interactions with colleagues. You could make this part of your Week 2 personal development plan.

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