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People ask questions for a variety of reasons. They help us learn more about each other, our ideas and various subjects. Learning how to ask questions may help you become a better communicator. In this article, we discuss why asking the right questions is important and how to ask the right questions and provide tips for asking the right questions.
Why is asking the right questions important?
Asking the right questions is important to help you receive the information you seek. It’s important to ask specific questions as you likely want and listen for a specific answer. Asking the wrong question may provide you with the wrong answers, causing confusion or other issues.
Learning how to ask the right questions is important in developing effective communication skills. Excellent communication skills can help you share information and educate others, thereby improving your interpersonal skills, building better relationships or managing people more effectively.
How to ask the right questions
Here are some steps to help you ask the right questions:
1. Think about what you want to know
Think about what you hope to learn. Questions that are more specific can often elicit more specific answers. Deciding what you want to know may help ensure you ask the right questions.
2. Determine the purpose of your question
Determine why you want to ask this question. Think about what kind of answer you what to receive. Consider if you want to receive advice, a fact-based answer or someone else’s opinion or perspective.
3. Develop an open-ended question
Create an open-ended question related to what you want to know. Open-ended questions refer to any question that a person may not answer with a simple “yes” or “no” answer. Also, open-ended questions may help the person who you have questions for feel more comfortable as you do not limit their response.
Ensure your question is easy to understand. Evaluate your question to determine if it is unbiased. Be sure to focus your question on only one topic to help avoid confusion.
4. Find the right person
Choose the right person to answer your questions. The right person depends on what you hope to learn. Reach out to the person, and ask them if they would be available and willing to answer some questions you have. Consider letting them know why you want to talk to them.
5. Determine the right time to ask them
It’s important to choose the right time to ask questions. Avoid tense or stressful situations, and reduce distractions as much as you can. Try to plan ahead, and reserve time for the conversation to ensure you have enough time to ask your questions without worrying about rushing.
6. Allow them to answer your question
Allow the person plenty of time to answer your question, and avoid interrupting their answer. While you may have good intentions, an interruption may cause the person to think you do not value their answer. Instead, wait for them to finish their answer, and prepare questions to ask to gain clarification.
7. Ask follow-up questions
Ask follow-up questions to learn more about the situation. However, it’s important to be friendly and choose questions that will not cause the person to become defensive. Ask questions that highlight your natural curiosity and genuine desire to learn more.
8. Thank the person for their time
Thank the person for their time and response. Ensure they understand how much you appreciate their help. This is important because you may need their help again in the future.
Tips for asking the right questions
Here are some tips to help you ask the right questions:
Avoid asking rhetorical questions
A rhetorical question is a question or statement asked without expecting an answer. People often ask rhetorical questions for dramatic effort or to emphasize a point. However, these questions rarely provide helpful answers. Instead, focus on developing questions designed to receive answers and new information.
Be understanding of the person who is answering your questions. Avoid asking questions that set the person up for failure or uncomfortable positions. Instead, ensure you have good intentions for your questions and ask them in the right settings.
Practice active listening
Ensure the person knows you’re listening. Use nonverbal cues like nodding, smiling and maintaining eye contact to show your engagement. Ask probing follow-up questions to clarify any misunderstanding, and paraphrase what they told you to check for understanding.
Use silence to your advantage. Allow time in between your questions to allow the other person to relax and prepare for your next question. This also allows you to process the information you received and think of follow-up questions.
Think about how you would want to be asked questions
Consider how you want other people to ask questions. Think about how much time you would like to have to consider a question before you provide an answer or how much time you would want in between questions. Also, think about each question you ask. If think you may feel uncomfortable answering the question, consider rephrasing it or not asking it at all.
Ask questions that encourage discussion
It’s important to have a specific intention with your question. However, it’s important to not be so specific or direct that you limit the questions you receive. For example, avoid questions that require a person to choose between two options, such as “Do you think we should create an email marketing campaign or social media campaign?” Instead, choose questions that seek similar answers in a different format, such as “Which channel do you think will be most effective to reach our target market, and what should the campaign include?”
Don’t Ask, Don’t Get
“Be a good listener,” Dale Carnegie advised in his 1936 classic How to Win Friends and Influence People. “Ask questions the other person will enjoy answering.” More than 80 years later, most people still fail to heed Carnegie’s sage advice. When one of us (Alison) began studying conversations at Harvard Business School several years ago, she quickly arrived at a foundational insight: People don’t ask enough questions. In fact, among the most common complaints people make after having a conversation, such as an interview, a first date, or a work meeting, is “I wish [s/he] had asked me more questions” and “I can’t believe [s/he] didn’t ask me any questions.”
Why do so many of us hold back? There are many reasons. People may be egocentric—eager to impress others with their own thoughts, stories, and ideas (and not even think to ask questions). Perhaps they are apathetic—they don’t care enough to ask, or they anticipate being bored by the answers they’d hear. They may be overconfident in their own knowledge and think they already know the answers (which sometimes they do, but usually not). Or perhaps they worry that they’ll ask the wrong question and be viewed as rude or incompetent. But the biggest inhibitor, in our opinion, is that most people just don’t understand how beneficial good questioning can be. If they did, they would end far fewer sentences with a period—and more with a question mark.
how to ask a question in an email
Follow these steps to ask for help using email:
1. Use a clear, direct subject line
Use the subject line to clearly express what your email is concerning, especially if you don’t know the recipient well. The subject line can act as an introduction to your email. The person you are asking for help may be more interested in the body of your email when they are interested in or curious about the subject.
2. Greet your reader
Including a greeting can help the email seem more personal and set the tone for the rest of the content. The greeting you choose can give your reader an idea of how formal or informal your email will be. Be sure to spell their name correctly and use the appropriate honorifics (for example, using “Dr.” instead of “Mrs.” if the recipient has a Ph.D. or medical degree).
3. Establish your credibility
You should introduce yourself and show the value of your communication in the first sentence, especially if you haven’t had previous contact with the recipient. Give your credentials and explain how you came in contact with the individual. If you are more familiar with them, you can start by giving context for your problem or question.
4. Put the question in the first or second sentence
Ask your question early in the email so that the recipient can find it easily. Many people skim their emails, so placing the question or request early in the email helps ensure that they will see it. Positioning the question at the top of the email also helps them determine whether they can help without spending too much time sorting through information.
5. Use a call to action to clarify the next steps
People are often more likely to help you when they know how to proceed. If you are looking for answers to a question, you can specify where you looked or why your research didn’t turn up the answers you were looking for. If you are asking for another kind of help, such as asking the recipient to complete a task, you should provide clear instructions and goals.
6. Make your email easy to read
Many people check their emails between tasks, so you want to make your email easy to skim. If you have a lot of information to include, you can use bullet points and bolded text to help your reader easily recognize the most important points.
7. Give your reader a deadline
To give your reader a better understanding of what you need and when make sure to tell them your timeline. When you give the recipient a time frame for when you need their help, it allows them to determine whether they can give your request the attention it deserves. Knowing when they need to answer can also help alleviate stress and help them build your request into their schedule.
8. Close the email politely and thoughtfully
When you close your email, you should thank the recipient for their time and assistance. They may be more inclined to respond if it’s clear that you respect their other obligations and expertise. Thoughtful closing sentences can also build goodwill and friendship.
9. Edit before you send
Editing your email before you send it can help you determine if you are using the correct tone and if you made any grammatical mistakes. You may also find that you should adjust the amount of detail you provide.