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Asking questions is one of the most powerful tools a leader can use. Young children use questions from an early age to find out how the world, and people, works. The great thing about questions is that they enable a leader to direct and instruct without actually giving directions or instructions, and the result of that is more buy-in as they follower has arrived there themselves. Leaders ask questions and drill down into each answer with other questions, leading the discussion down the desired path.
Asking a question assumes no particular view by the leader, as perceived by the follower. So the follower doesn’t get too much chance to apply ‘listening filters’ on what is being said, and therefore she has no need to adjust the answer according to any perceived assumptions.
Great Questionmasters lead the questioning at a pace where the follower doesn’t feel threatened by a question that goes straight for the jugular. Skillful Questionmasters also intersperse questions with a summary of what has been said so far, re-emphasizing the points that will be further drilled.
Through the art of thoughtful questioning leaders can gather not just factual information, but aid followers to connect concepts, make inferences, increase awareness, encourage creative and imaginative thought, aid critical thinking processes, and generally help followers explore deeper levels of knowing, thinking, and understanding.
Did you know there was five basic kinds of questions?
Factual – Simple, straightforward answers based on obvious facts or awareness. These are usually at the lowest level of cognitive or affective processes and answers are either right or wrong.
Example: What Backup Software do we use?
Convergent – Answers are usually within a very small range of acceptable accuracy. These are based on personal awareness, or on information read, presented or known.
Example: How should we best backup our system in our budget?
Divergent – These questions prompt followers to explore different avenues and create many different variations and alternative answers or scenarios. How correct the answer is may be based on logical projections, could be contextual, or arrived at through basic knowledge, conjecture, inference, projection, creation, intuition, or imagination. To reach an answer, followers are generally required to analyze, synthesize, or evaluate a knowledge base and then project or predict different outcomes.
Example: How might we change our backup strategy in the future?
Evaluative – These types of questions usually require sophisticated levels of judgment. Answers come through analysis at multiple levels and from different perspectives before the answerer arrives at information or conclusions.
Example: Why should the people involved in our backup process be different to those involved in the restore process, if you consider security, risk and our business objectives?
Combinations – These are questions that blend any combination of the above.
In summary, questions are powerful for IT leaders and should be used as often as possible. Questions are good for morale, productivity improvement, team development and innovation. Being a good Questionmaster is a valuable skill.