Everything in life has an opposite. Yin and yang. Sweet and sour. Books and the movies based on them. So it makes sense that there are good questions and bad questions.
Good questions build relationships and inspire communication. Bad questions cause confusion and chaos.
So we like good questions. I want to help you think through how to craft a good question. It’s not only more convenient for you (because it’s more efficient), but also shows your co-workers and employees respect.
Don’t make them run in circles to answer poorly phrased questions.
Identifying Bad Questions
Before we can talk about good questions, we need to identify what makes a question bad.
I’ve made a list of seven qualities of bad questions and described them for you.
1. Bad questions are vague.
If you take away nothing else, learn this: Bad questions are not specific.
And nonspecific questions lead to nonspecific answers.
If you ask a vague question, you will get a vague response. Then you get more confused and you run the risk of asking another vague question in the hopes of clarifying your point.
If you aren’t skilled in the art of asking good questions, you might find yourself stuck in a vicious cycle of vagueness.
No one will learn anything and you’ll only get frustrated.
2. Bad questions have lots of friends.
Because bad questions that aren’t specific often travel in packs, like wolves.
This isn’t a good idea because, like wolves, groups of poor questions can scare people. It makes it hard for them to concentrate on finding the answer.
I had a professor in college who was notorious for only answering one question at a time. In person, it’s understandable. By the time he finished his in-depth explanation, even I would forget the other questions I had asked.
But even if I emailed this professor with two questions or a list of them, I’d only get an answer to one.
Now, this was a combination of bad question-asking and bad question-answering, but we’re only focusing on the question-asking for now.
I had to adapt.
But that’s point number 7. So put that thought on hold. I just had to hook you.
3. Bad questions are complicated.
You know that scene from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” where Arthur and his knights have to answer questions to cross a bridge?
That’s a perfect example of why complex questions are not your friends.
The first knight answers the questions easily, stating his name, his quest, and his favorite color. The next two knights answer incorrectly and are thrown into the chasm.
When Arthur steps forward, he is asked a ridiculously convoluted question about the velocity of a flying sparrow.
Unfortunately for the man asking the question, Arthur asks for clarification. The questioner doesn’t know and is thrown into the chasm as well.
Now, I hope you aren’t thrown into a chasm because you asked a bad question. But an overly complicated question will confuse the person you’re talking to.
It may even confuse you as well.
4. Bad questions are rude and accusatory.
Bad questions have bad manners. It’s a fact of life. They just don’t like to ask for things nicely.
When it comes to these questions, wording is key. Here are two examples.
- “Why don’t you have that project done?”
- “Why isn’t the project done?”
The two questions are almost identical.
But adding “you” makes the asker seem like he or she is attacking the person.
No one likes to feel like things are their fault. Even if they are at fault.
5. Bad questions pretend to know the answers.
Bad questions can be like that know-it-all kid everyone seems to have known in elementary school.
They ask a question, but not really. They’re often statements with a “right?” tacked on to the end, trying to disguise knowledge as a question. It sounds something like this:
“You do know that the report was due last Friday, right?”
Not only does it accomplish nothing, it distances the person you’re talking to because it’s accusatory, and it sounds kind of pretentious.
6. Bad questions are self-centered.
Let’s face it. Bad questions are divas.
Similar to point 4, bad questions can be rude by using “you” and sounding mean. They can also be selfish.
It’s hard to balance the two.
These diva questions are demanding. They show up all the time, generally when least wanted. They’re followed by an entourage of other annoying little questions who are trying their hardest to please the diva.
But divas cannot be pleased.
And they just exhaust whoever has to deal with them.
7. Bad questions don’t consider their recipient.
Remember that thought from point 2? I’m bringing it back up.
Sometimes the question itself isn’t bad, it just doesn’t get along with who you’re asking or the way you approach that person.
Understanding who you’re talking to is key in asking good questions.
Some people prefer to speak in person. Others would rather see your question (or questions) written in an email so they can refer back to them while answering. Some people like you to remain formal and other like a more casual conversation.
Unfortunately, you often can only find out how to approach people through trial and error.
Asking the Right Questions
So now that we know about bad questions, let’s look at good questions. First things first, let’s look at different types of questions.
Four Types of Questions
According to BloombergBusiness, there are four basic types of questions. It’s important to understand each type so you can better craft your questions.
Perspective questions are opinion based. They are “What do you think?” type questions. These questions start conversations and encourage people to think creatively. Perspective questions are great because they include lots of people and can spark all sorts of neat ideas.
These are the detail orientated questions. Evaluative questions are trying to narrow in on a specific point. They often start with “why” or “what”. These questions are meant to get people thinking about how things are currently and how they might be different. Evaluative questions are a little more introspective than the others.
Action questions are future-focused. They help you figure out possible actions and outcomes. Action questions are mostly “how” questions. These tend to be more straightforward than other types of questions.
Knowledge questions are a way to double check information you already know or clarify points you might be confused about. They are “what” and “right” questions. Knowledge questions can be the simplest type of question, but they are no less important for it. They help clarify exactly what’s going on.
How to Craft Good Questions
Now that we know what bad questions are, why they matter, and the four types of questions, here are some easy ways to create good questions:
- Take your time. When you just start rambling about whatever is in your mind, the result isn’t usually the best. I speak from experience. Take some time to put your thoughts in order and really get to the core of your question.
- Ask a series of related questions. Now, I don’t mean as five questions at once. I mean ask one question, get an answer, and ask another question based on it. This is a great technique for getting lots of details without anyone feeling overwhelmed.
- Ask questions in a positive manner. If at all possible, avoid negative terms like “not”.
- Ask for opinions. People like to feel like their opinions matter. If you make an effort to ask for them, people will be much more receptive to you.
- Ask yourself questions. You don’t have to only ask other people questions. It’s worth it to ask yourself questions every now and then to see where you stand. It can help you process what’s going on and can sometimes help you find the answers to other important questions.
- Listen. Not only will people be more willing to deal with your questions if they know you’ll listen to their answers, but listening carefully can often provide answers to more than just the question you asked.
- Be patient. You might not get answers right away. Sometimes the person you ask will have to ask someone else that same question. But if you are willing to wait, you will get the information you need.
Even though good questions and bad questions are opposites, you can use them to your advantage.
You now know how to ask questions the right way and you can spot bad questions. So be on the lookout for those sneaky bad questions and use your knowledge to defeat them with good questions.
How have good or bad questions affected you?