3 Rules of Great Questions

Most people don’t ask good questions.

I’ve been leading Vistage in Spain for the last 5 years. We coach CEOs to increase their effectiveness and improve their quality of life. We do this with questions. I’ve spent these last 5 years paying attention to how people use questions.

I recently came across a thread on twitter that had 3 good rules for better questions.

John Sawatsky’s 3 rules of great questions:

  • Start open-ended
  • Keep them neutral
  • Make them lean

Effective questions

1. Open

Rule: great questions are open-ended. Open questions invite deeper dialogue. They encourage the person to expand. Closed questions (yes/no) do the opposite.

Open-ended examples:

  • What is exciting you right now?
  • Why do people struggle with that?
  • How would you solve this problem?

These Qs are probing for conversation. They can’t be answered with yes/no.

Closed-ended examples:

  • Did you buy the truck?
  • Is the steak here good?
  • Are you going to the game?
  • Should we go on a hike today?

These Qs are quick and transactional. There will likely be no depth to the response.

2. Neutral

Rule: great questions are neutral.

Neutral questions don’t “lead” the person. They allow them to naturally follow their curiosity. Non-neutral questions are often called “loaded.” Consciously or subconsciously, they are biased.

Neutral examples:

  • What inspired that?
  • What happened next?
  • How did you decide that?
  • Why did you do it that way?
  • How would you explain this?

These questions have no bias. They are objective and curious.

Non-neutral examples:

  • Why do you get defensive so easily?
  • How were you able to show such courage?
  • What made that such a terrible play call?

These Qs carry an assumption or opinion. Positively or negatively, they are “loaded.”

3. Lean

Rule: great questions are lean.

Complex questions are hard to answer. Simple questions produce thoughtfulness and insight. Make it easy for the person to engage.

Lean examples:

  • What happened then?
  • What did you do next?
  • How did it go?
  • What else?

Be simple + direct, then get out of the way.

Non-lean question:

There’s so many awesome people on Twitter. Who are your favorite follows, why and what is one great thing you’ve read from each of them?

See the problem? You don’t even know where to begin.

If this was of use, you can follow Teddy Mitrosilis on twitter.

More from the blog on great questions…

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