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Nine questioning techniques to engage your team

Have you ever found yourself stuck? Unable to see a way forward in discussion with your team.

You want to make progress but you’re not sure how?

These nine questioning techniques will help you engage your team: you’ll effectively connect with them, build consensus and get results.

Use these questioning techniques to:

  1. Gain information or confirmation.
  2. Engage your team and encourage sharing and discussion.
  3. Get a deeper understanding of a topic.
  4. Proactively involve others in group discussions.
  5. Explore the root cause of a problem.
  6. Control the discussion and achieve a specific outcome.
  7. Use a structured approach to develop creative solutions.
  8. Build relationships.
  9. Take a flexible and sophisticated approach to a complex situation.

Take some time to explore these questioning techniques to help you get results at work!

Basic questioning techniques

These first techniques are probably familiar to you. Take a quick look:

Closed questions

Use closed questions when you’re seeking specific information or to confirm your understanding.

These are questions that elicit a yes/no answer or a specific and limited response:

  • Will you join the meeting?
  • Are you happy with the work I’ve done?
  • What time do you want the work done by?

Open, neutral questions

Use open, neutral questions when you want to engage people and encourage sharing and discussion.

These are questions that gives the opportunity for a more expansive response:

  • What are your thoughts?
  • What are your suggestions for improvement?
  • What opportunities can you see?

Follow up questions

Use follow up questions when the answers to your initial questions are quite limited and you want to explore a topic more deeply.

Any question that seeks a deeper understanding of the same topic. For example, you may ask an initial open question such as “what are your thoughts about my work?” and receive a short response, “quite good”.

Useful follow up questions could be:

  • Thanks, what could be improved?
  • What do I need to do to make it excellent?
  • How can I make the work better?

Intermediate questioning techniques

These intermediate questioning techniques help you build engagement and collaboration with individuals and groups of people.

Group facilitation questions

These questions are ideal when you’re in a group setting and want to encourage sharing and discussion.

Sometimes discussions aren’t just one-to-one, sometimes there’s a group of people to engage, for example you may be facilitating a discussion in a meeting.

Use questions such as:

  • What do other people think?
  • Can anyone else give me an example?
  • Does anyone have a different perspective?

The ‘5 whys’ questioning technique

Use the ‘5 whys’ questioning technique when you want to explore the root cause of a problem.

This technique is used as a tool in Six Sigma and Lean methodologies and was first developed within the Toyota Motor company to improve manufacturing methodologies. If you’re using this technique, it’s best to explain what you’re planning to do first so the people you’re working with understand the purpose and methodology.

An example might be:

  1. Why did we lose the customer? The customer was dis-satisfied with our service.
  2. Why was the customer dis-satisfied? We missed deadlines.
  3. Why did we miss deadlines? The parts weren’t available.
  4. Why weren’t the parts available? Our supplier couldn’t deliver quickly enough.
  5. Why couldn’t the supplier deliver quick enough? They’re not specialists.

POSSIBLE SOLUTION: find a specialist supplier who can guarantee delivery times that meet our requirements.

If there are potentially multiple root causes repeat the 5 whys technique with different questions.

Leading questions

Use leading questions when you wish to control the discussion and achieve a specific outcome.

Leading questions are designed to prompt or encourage a specific response, they should be used carefully as they can appear to be manipulative or controlling.

Examples of leading questions:

  • How much more will you pay me after my probation finishes?
  • You will give me that promotion, won’t you?
  • If you confront him about this, do you really think we’ll get his support next time?

The first of these questions has a built-in assumption, the second question is a statement with a question tag at the end, the third question has a built-in cause and effect. There are many ways of asking leading questions!

Advanced questioning techniques

These advanced questioning techniques all use structured questioning to help you move forward. Within these structures you might also use follow up questions, group questions and closed-ended questions to get to a successful outcome.

Bloom’s Taxonomy questioning technique

Use this questioning technique when you want to explore a topic using a structured approach that takes you from current knowledge through to a creative exploration of possible options going forward.

This technique is based on work done by Benjamin Bloom to define a hierarchical structure of learning objectives. The six levels can be used to derive a structured approach to questioning.

For example, if you’re exploring why an IT project failed, you might use the structure as follows:

  1. Knowledge: What happened?
  2. Comprehension: Why did it happen?
  3. Application: What have we learnt from this?
  4. Analysis: What are the implications going forward?
  5. Evaluation: What are our alternatives?
  6. Creation: What’s the best new solution?

Progressive intensity questioning

Use the progressive levels of intensity to quickly and smoothly build relationships, even within a single meeting.

You can also think about structuring your questions to smoothly build relationships. Imagine if you met someone for the first time and they immediately started asking you about your values, your beliefs, your faith. For most people that would feel too intrusive, too challenging.

However, it is possible to build relationships quickly, even within a single meeting, if you structure your questions appropriately. The key is to structure your questions based on intensity levels.

Low intensity questions tend to be fact-based, which is why so many new relationships start with fact-based questions:
  • Where are you from?
  • Which school did you go to?
  • How long have you been here?
Medium intensity questions solicit thoughts and opinions:
  • What are your thoughts?
  • What’s your view on this?
  • What are your suggestions?
High intensity questions explore values, beliefs and motivations:
  • Why do you say that?
  • What’s important to you in this situation?
  • What do you believe is the right outcome?

Socratic questioning

Use Socratic questioning when you want a flexible and sophisticated approach to a complex situation that involves many different stakeholders. (Consider making a note of the 6 different question types for reference as you discuss the topic.)

This is one of the most sophisticated of questioning techniques, Socratic questioning is associated with critical thinking and a desire to seek the truth in complex situations.

It involves the interplay of 6 different types of questions:

  1. Questions about the question: Why are you asking this question?
  2. Questions that probe underlying thinking: how does what you’re saying relate to the topic
  3. Questions that probe for reasons and evidence: can you give me an example of that?
  4. Questions that probe underlying assumptions: how can we verify that?
  5. Questions about perspectives: is there an alternative view of this?
  6. Questions about implications and consequences: what will happen if we go down this path?

Questioning techniques: In summary

Here’s a summary of how and when you can use all the questioning techniques above:

  1. Use closed questions when you’re seeking specific information or confirmation.
  2. Use open questions to engage your team and encourage sharing and discussion.
  3. Consider asking follow-up questions to get a deeper understanding of the topic.
  4. The next time you’re working in a group, be proactive in involving others using the group facilitation questions.
  5. Use the ‘5 whys’ when you want to explore the root cause of a problem.
  6. Be mindful of the leading questions you ask and the impact they have (it’s natural for us to ask leading questions, so watch out!).
  7. Use Bloom’s questioning technique when you want a structured approach to take you from current knowledge to creative solutions.
  8. Use progressive levels of intensity in your questions when you’re building a relationship.
  9. Use Socratic questioning when you want a flexible and sophisticated approach to a complex situation.

When you take a little time to reflect, consider whether you’ve used these questioning techniques appropriately.

Improve your questioning skills using these nine questioning techniques and you’ll soon start getting better results. Then share with your team and encourage them to do the same!

Colin Bates

Colin Bates

I'm at my best when helping people to learn, grow and succeed. This might be facilitating a training program, coaching a colleague, or sharing advice with my kids. I'm also an introvert by nature, and love to read, reflect and write. Hence this blog!