A recent HBR blog piece talked about curiosity as a leadership trait capable of getting much higher team performance. The main message is to transparently put your views on the table then solicit the views of others with curious questions, rather than rhetorical questions or questions asked merely to gain support for your point of view. The blog piece gives insightful examples of curious and spurious questions.
Building on this theme, there are three types of questions which should be avoided:
1. Questions calling for a yes or no answer. This type of question encourages brief responses, rather than exhibiting real curiosity to explore an issue. “Do you agree?” is an example of this type of questions. A better approach would be: “I’m curious to explore the pluses and minus of this approach as a team.” This open-ended alternative elicits others to contribute in a meaningful way.
2. Questions that begin with “why.” These questions put the listener on the defensive and tend to stifle discussion An example of this is: Why do you think this is a good idea?”. A much better approach is: “Let’s discuss your thinking up to this point, and let’s see what others think as well.”
3. Leading questions. These questions try to force an answer rather than show real curiosity as to what the listeners think. An example is; “If we don’t take my approach, how can we possibly meet our deadline?” A much better approach would be: “Let’s see if we can find an alternative we haven’t considered that can meet our objectives. Let’s just brainstorm for a while and see what surfaces.”
Interestingly, questioning skills are one of the easiest leadership attributes to teach. Yet, not only do we rarely teach them, we rarely even discuss them in the context of developing leaders or growing talent.