Summary.

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Asking questions is a uniquely an effective tool for unlocking value in organizations: It spurs learning and the exchange that ideas, it fuel innovation and performance improvement, it builds rapport and also trust among team members. And also it deserve to mitigate service risk by uncovering unforeseen pitfalls and also hazards. But couple of executives think that questioning together a skill that can be honed—or consider how their own answers come questions could make conversations an ext productive. That’s a to let go opportunity. The good news is that by questioning questions, we naturally boost our emotional intelligence, which in turn makes us much better questioners—a building cycle. The authors attract on insights from behavior science research study to discover how the method we frame questions and choose come answer our counterparts deserve to influence the outcome of conversations. They market guidance for picking the ideal type, tone, sequence, and framing that questions and for deciding what and how much details to re-publishing to reap the most benefit from ours interactions, not just for ourselves but for our organizations.


The difficulty

Some professionals such together litigators, journalists and also even doctors, are taught come ask inquiries as component of your training. But couple of executives think about questioning together a skill that have the right to be honed. It is a missed opportunity.

The opportunity

Questioning is a powerful tool because that unlocking worth in companies: It spur learning and also the exchange the ideas, that fuels innovation and far better performance, it build trust amongst team members. And it have the right to mitigate business risk by uncovering unanticipated pitfalls and hazards.

The technique

Several techniques have the right to enhance the power and also efficacy of queries: donate follow-up questions, understand when to keep questions open-ended, obtain the succession right, usage the appropriate tone, and also pay fist to team dynamics.


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Much of one executive’s workday is invested asking others for information—requesting standing updates from a team leader, for example, or questioning a counterpart in a tense negotiation. However unlike specialists such as litigators, journalists, and also doctors, who space taught exactly how to ask questions as crucial part of their training, couple of executives think the questioning together a skill that deserve to be honed—or think about how their own answers to questions might make conversations an ext productive.

That’s a missed opportunity. Questioning is a uniquely an effective tool for unlocking worth in organizations: It spurs learning and the exchange that ideas, it fuels innovation and also performance improvement, it build rapport and also trust amongst team members. And also it deserve to mitigate company risk through uncovering unanticipated pitfalls and also hazards.

For part people, questioning come easily. Their natural inquisitiveness, emotional intelligence, and ability to read human being put the ideal question on the reminder of your tongue. However most of united state don’t ask enough questions, nor do we pose our inquiries in one optimal way.

The good news is the by asking questions, we naturally improve our emotionally intelligence, which consequently makes us much better questioners—a virtuous cycle. In this article, we attract on insights from behavioral science research to check out how the way we framework questions and choose come answer our counterparts deserve to influence the result of conversations. We offer guidance for choosing the best type, tone, sequence, and also framing of questions and for deciding what and also how much info to re-publishing to gain the most advantage from our interactions, not simply for ourselves yet for our organizations.

Don’t Ask, don’t Get

“Be a an excellent listener,” Dale Carnegie advised in his 1936 standard How to victory Friends and Influence People. “Ask inquiries the other person will enjoy answering.” much more than 80 years later, most civilization still fail to heed Carnegie’s sage advice. As soon as one of united state (Alison) began studying conversations in ~ Harvard organization School several years ago, she easily arrived at a foundational insight: human being don’t ask sufficient questions. In fact, amongst the most usual complaints human being make after having actually a conversation, such together an interview, a an initial date, or a occupational meeting, is “I great had actually asked me much more questions” and also “I can’t believe didn’t ask me any questions.”

Why execute so countless of us organize back? there are countless reasons. World may it is in egocentric—eager to impress others v their own thoughts, stories, and ideas (and not also think come ask questions). Perhaps they space apathetic—they don’t care enough come ask, or they anticipate being bored by the answers they will do hear. They may be overconfident in their very own knowledge and also think they already know the answers (which periodically they do, yet usually not). Or perhaps they issue that they’ll asking the wrong question and also be viewed as rude or incompetent. But the best inhibitor, in our opinion, is that most civilization just nothing understand how beneficial good questioning have the right to be. If lock did, they would finish far under sentences with a period—and an ext with a inquiry mark.

Dating earlier to the 1970s, research suggests that civilization have conversations to attain some mix of two major goals: info exchange (learning) and also impression administration (liking). Recent research mirrors that asking questions achieves both. Alison and also Harvard partner Karen Huang, Michael Yeomans, Julia Minson, and Francesca Gino scrutinized thousands of organic conversations among participants who were gaining to understand each other, either in virtual chats or ~ above in-person speed dates. The researchers told some world to ask countless questions (at the very least nine in 15 minutes) and also others come ask very few (no much more than 4 in 15 minutes). In the digital chats, the people who to be randomly assigned to ask countless questions were far better liked by their conversation partners and also learned more about your partners’ interests. Because that example, once quizzed about their partners’ preferences for activities such as reading, cooking, and also exercising, high concern askers were more likely to be able to guess correctly. Among the speed daters, world were an ext willing to walk on a second date v partners who asked an ext questions. In fact, asking simply one much more question ~ above each day meant that participants persuaded one additional person (over the food of 20 dates) to go out through them again.


Questions room such an effective tools the they have the right to be beneficial—perhaps particularly so—in circumstances as soon as question questioning goes versus social norms. For instance, prevailing standards tell united state that project candidates space expected come answer questions during interviews. However research by Dan Cable, at the London service School, and Virginia Kay, in ~ the university of north Carolina, argues that most world excessively self-promote during job interviews. And also when interviewees emphasis on selling themselves, castle are most likely to forget come ask questions—about the interviewer, the organization, the work—that would certainly make the interviewer feel an ext engaged and much more apt to view the candidate favorably and also could help the candidate predict even if it is the job would carry out satisfying work. For job candidates, asking concerns such as “What to be I not asking you that ns should?” can signal competence, construct rapport, and unlock key pieces of information around the position.

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Most human being don’t master that asking a many questions unlocks learning and also improves interpersonal bonding. In Alison’s studies, for example, though world could that s right recall how numerous questions had actually been request in your conversations, they no intuit the link in between questions and liking. Throughout four studies, in i m sorry participants were involved in conversations themselves or review transcripts of others’ conversations, human being tended not to establish that inquiry asking would certainly influence—or had actually influenced—the level of amity between the conversationalists.

The new Socratic Method

The an initial step in ending up being a better questioner is simply to ask an ext questions. The course, the sheer number of questions is not the only aspect that impacts the quality of a conversation: The type, tone, sequence, and framing also matter.

In our teaching at Harvard organization School, we operation an exercise in which we instruct bag of student to have a conversation. Part students room told come ask as couple of questions as possible, and also some space instructed to ask as many as possible. Amongst the low-low bag (both students ask a minimum that questions), participants typically report that the endure is a bit like kids engaging in parallel play: they exchange statements however struggle to initiate an interactive, enjoyable, or abundant dialogue. The high-high pairs find that too plenty of questions can likewise create a stilted dynamic. However, the high-low pairs’ experiences room mixed. Sometimes the inquiry asker learn a lot around her partner, the answerer feel heard, and both come away feeling profoundly closer. Other times, one of the participants may feel uncomfortable in his function or unsure around how much to share, and the conversation have the right to feel favor an interrogation.

Our research says several approaches that can enhance the power and efficacy the queries. The best strategy for a given instance depends ~ above the purposes of the conversationalists—specifically, whether the discussion is cooperative (for example, the duo is do the efforts to build a relationship or attain a task together) or competitive (the parties seek to uncover sensitive info from each various other or serve their very own interests), or some mix of both. Think about the complying with tactics.

Conversational Goals matter

Conversations loss along a continually from purely competitive to purely cooperative. For example, discussions about the allocation of scarce resources tend to it is in competitive; those in between friends and also colleagues are normally cooperative; and others, such managers’ check-ins with employees, are mixed—supportive but also providing feedback and communicating expectations. Here are some difficulties that commonly arise as soon as asking and also answering questions and also tactics for taking care of them.


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Favor follow-up questions.

Not all inquiries are developed equal. Alison’s research, using human being coding and maker learning, revealed four varieties of questions: introductory inquiries (“How are you?”), mirror inquiries (“I’m fine. How are you?”), full-switch inquiries (ones that change the object entirely), and follow-up concerns (ones that solicit much more information). Back each form is abundant in natural conversation, follow-up questions seem to have actually special power. They signal to her conversation companion that you are listening, care, and want to understand more. People interacting v a companion who asks many follow-up concerns tend to feeling respected and also heard.

An unexpected advantage of follow-up concerns is that they nothing require much thought or preparation—indeed, castle seem come come naturally to interlocutors. In Alison’s studies, the world who were told to ask much more questions used much more follow-up concerns than any kind of other form without gift instructed to execute so.

Know when to keep concerns open-ended.

No one likes to feeling interrogated—and some types of concerns can pressure answerers into a yes-or-no corner. Open-ended questions deserve to counteract the effect and also thus deserve to be specifically useful in uncovering information or discovering something new. Indeed, they are wellsprings that innovation—which is often the an outcome of recognize the hidden, unforeseen answer the no one has actually thought the before.

A riches of research in survey architecture has displayed the dangers of narrowing respondents’ options. For example, “closed” questions deserve to introduce bias and also manipulation. In one study, in which parents to be asked what they deemed “the most essential thing for children to prepare castle in life,” around 60% that them determined “to think because that themselves” from a list of an answer options. However, as soon as the same concern was asked in one open-ended format, only about 5% of parental spontaneously come up with an answer along those lines.

Of course, open-ended concerns aren’t always optimal. Because that example, if you space in a tense negotiation or room dealing with people who often tend to keep their cards close to your chest, open-ended questions have the right to leave too much wiggle room, inviting castle to dodge or lie by omission. In such situations, closeup of the door questions work-related better, especially if they room framed correctly. Because that example, study by Julia Minson, the college of Utah’s Eric VanEpps, Georgetown’s Jeremy Yip, and Wharton’s Maurice Schweitzer indicates that civilization are less likely to lie if questioners make cynical assumptions (“This business will need some new equipment soon, correct?”) quite than confident ones (“The devices is in good working order, right?”).

Sometimes the details you wish to ascertain is so sensitive that straight questions i will not ~ work, no matter exactly how thoughtfully they room framed. In these situations, a inspection tactic can help discovery. In research Leslie carried out with Alessandro Acquisti and George Loewenstein of Carnegie Mellon University, she discovered that people were more forthcoming as soon as requests because that sensitive info were couched within another task—in the study’s case, rating the ethicality that antisocial habits such together cheating ~ above one’s taxation return or letting a drunk friend drive home. Participants were asked to price the ethicality utilizing one range if castle had engaged in a specific behavior and also another range if they hadn’t—thus revealing which antisocial plot they themselves had involved in. Return this tactic may sometimes prove beneficial at an organizational level—we have the right to imagine that supervisors might administer a survey fairly than ask employees directly around sensitive information such as salary expectations—we counsel restraint in using it. If civilization feel that you are trying come trick them right into revealing something, lock may lose trust in you, decreasing the likelihood the they’ll share details in the future and potentially eroding workplace relationships.

Get the succession right.

The optimal stimulate of your questions depends top top the circumstances. During tense encounters, asking difficult questions first, even if the feels socially aer to execute so, can make her conversational partner more willing to open up. Leslie and her coauthors found that human being are more willing to disclose sensitive details when concerns are request in a decreasing bespeak of intrusiveness. As soon as a concern asker starts with a very sensitive question—such together “Have you ever had a fantasy of act something terrible to someone?”—subsequent questions, such as “Have girlfriend ever called in sick to job-related when you to be perfectly healthy?” feel, through comparison, less intrusive, and also thus we have tendency to be much more forthcoming. Of course, if the first question is too sensitive, you run the danger of offending her counterpart. So it’s a breakable balance, to be sure.

The power of questions in Sales

There are few business setups in which asking inquiries is much more important 보다 sales. A recent study of an ext than 500,000 business-to-business sales conversations—over the phone and also via digital platforms—by tech agency Gong.io reveals the top-performing salespeople ask questions in different way than their peers.

Consistent with past research, the data reflects a solid connection in between the variety of questions a salesperson asks and his or she sales conversion rate (in regards to both securing the next meeting and also eventually closeup of the door the deal). This is true also after controlling for the sex of the salesperson and the call form (demo, proposal, negotiation, and so on). However, there is a allude of diminishing returns. Conversion rates start to drop turn off after around 14 questions, v 11 to 14 gift the optimal range.

The data also shows that top-performing salespeople have tendency to scatter inquiries throughout the sales call, which provides it feel much more like a conversation than an interrogation. Reduced performers, in contrast, frontload inquiries in the first half of the sales call, together if they’re do their means through a to-do list.

Just as important, peak salespeople listen much more and speak less than your counterparts overall. Taken together, the data indigenous Gong.io affirms what great salespeople intuitively understand: when sellers ask questions rather than simply make their pitch, they close an ext deals.


If the score is to construct relationships, the opposite approach—opening with much less sensitive questions and escalating slowly—seems to be many effective. In a classic collection of research studies (the outcomes of which went viral complying with a write-up in the “Modern Love” pillar of the new York Times), psychologist Arthur Aron recruited strangers to concerned the lab, paired them up, and gave lock a list of questions. They to be told to job-related their method through the list, beginning with reasonably shallow inquiries and also progressing to much more self-revelatory ones, such together “What is your biggest regret?” bag in the regulate group were asked just to interact with each other. The pairs who adhered to the prescribed structure liked each other much more than the regulate pairs. This impact is so solid that it has been formalized in a task dubbed “the connection closeness induction,” a tool provided by researcher to construct a feeling of connection amongst experiment participants.


Good interlocutors likewise understand that questions asked previously in a conversation have the right to influence future queries. For example, Norbert Schwarz, the the university of southern California, and his coauthors uncovered that when the inquiry “How satisfied room you with your life?” is followed by the concern “How satisfied room you with your marriage?” the answers were very correlated: Respondents that reported being satisfied v their life likewise said they to be satisfied through their marriage. When asked the questions in this order, world implicitly understood that life satisfaction “ought come be” carefully tied to marriage. However, as soon as the same concerns were inquiry in opposing order, the answers to be less closely correlated.

Use the appropriate tone.

People are much more forthcoming as soon as you ask concerns in a casual way, rather than in a buttoned-up, main tone. In one of Leslie’s studies, participants to be posed a collection of sensitive concerns in an virtual survey. Because that one team of participants, the website’s user user interface looked fun and also frivolous; for one more group, the website looked official. (The control group to be presented v a neutral-looking site.) entrants were about twice as likely to expose sensitive information on the casual-looking site than ~ above the others.

People additionally tend to be much more forthcoming when provided an escape hatch or “out” in a conversation. Because that example, if they space told the they can adjust their answers at any type of point, they often tend to open up more—even despite they rarely end up make changes. This can explain why teams and groups discover brainstorming sessions therefore productive. In a whiteboard setting, where anything can be erased and also judgment is suspended, world are much more likely come answer concerns honestly and say points they otherwise can not. The course, there will be times when an off-the-cuff approach is inappropriate. Yet in general, an too many formal ton is most likely to inhibit people’s willingness come share information.

Pay fist to team dynamics.

Conversational dynamics can change profoundly depending on whether she chatting one-on-one through someone or talking in a group. Not only is the willingness come answer questions influenced simply by the presence of others, however members of a team tend to monitor one another’s lead. In one collection of studies, Leslie and her coauthors asked participants a series of sensitive questions, consisting of ones around finances (“Have you ever before bounced a check?”) and sex (“While one adult, have you ever before felt sexual desire because that a minor?”). Participants were told either that many others in the study were ready to disclose stigmatizing answer or the they were unwilling to do so. Participants that were told the others had been forthcoming to be 27% likelier to reveal sensitive answers 보다 those that were told the others had actually been reticent. In a conference or team setting, the takes just a few closed-off civilization for concerns to lose their probing power. The contrary is true, too. As soon as one human starts to open up up, the rest of the group is likely to monitor suit.

Group dynamics can also impact how a inquiry asker is perceived. Alison’s study reveals the participants in a conversation reap being inquiry questions and tend to favor the people asking questions an ext than those who answer them. However when third-party observers watch the exact same conversation unfold, they choose the human being who answers questions. This provides sense: human being who mainly ask concerns tend come disclose very tiny about themselves or your thoughts. To those listening to a conversation, concern askers may come across as defensive, evasive, or invisible, while those answering seem an ext fascinating, present, or memorable.

The finest Response

A conversation is a dance that requires partners to be in sync—it’s a common push-and-pull that unfolds end time. Simply as the way we questioning questions can facilitate trust and the sharing of information—so, too, can the method we price them.

Answering inquiries requires make a selection about where to loss on a continuum in between privacy and transparency. Must we answer the question? If we answer, just how forthcoming must we be? What should we do as soon as asked a inquiry that, if answered truthfully, could reveal a less-than-glamorous reality or put us in a disadvantaged strategy position? Each end of the spectrum—fully opaque and completely transparent—has benefits and also pitfalls. Keeping info private can make us feel free to experiment and also learn. In negotiations, withholding sensitive info (such as the fact that your options are weak) can assist you secure much better outcomes. At the very same time, transparency is critical part that forging meaningful connections. Even in a negotiation context, transparency have the right to lead to value-creating deals; by share information, participants have the right to identify aspects that are reasonably unimportant come one party however important come the other—the foundation of a win-win outcome.

And keeping secrets has actually costs. Research by Julie Lane and also Daniel Wegner, that the university of Virginia, says that concealing secrets during social interactions leads to the intrusive recurrence of mystery thoughts, while research by Columbia’s Michael Slepian, Jinseok Chun, and Malia Mason shows that maintaining secrets—even exterior of society interactions—depletes us cognitively, interferes with our capacity to concentrate and also remember things, and also even harms long-term health and well-being.

In an business context, people too frequently err ~ above the side of privacy—and underappreciate the benefits of transparency. How often do us realize that we could have important bonded v a colleague just after he or she has actually moved on come a new company? Why are far better deals frequently uncovered ~ the ink has dried, the tension has actually broken, and negotiators start to chat freely?

To maximize the services of answering questions—and minimization the risks—it’s important to decide before a conversation starts what information you want to share and what you want to keep private.

Deciding what come share.

There is no dominance of ignorance for how much—or what type—of information you should disclose. Indeed, transparency is such a powerful bonding agent that periodically it doesn’t issue what is revealed—even information that mirrors poorly on united state can draw our conversational partner closer. In research study Leslie carried out with HBS partners Kate Barasz and Michael Norton, she discovered that most human being assume the it would be less damaging come refuse to answer a inquiry that would reveal an adverse information—for example, “Have you ever been reprimanded at work?”—than come answer affirmatively. But this intuition is wrong. Once they asked human being to take the perspective of a recruiter and choose between two candidates (equivalent except for how they responded to this question), practically 90% desired the candidate who “came clean” and also answered the question. Prior to a conversation take away place, think carefully around whether refusing come answer tough questions would do much more harm 보다 good.

Deciding what to save private.

Of course, at time you and also your organization would be better served by maintaining your cards near to your chest. In our negotiation classes, we teach techniques for managing hard questions without lying. Dodging, or comment a concern you wish you had actually been asked, can be efficient not just in helping you defend information you’d fairly keep private but additionally in building a great rapport v your conversational partner, particularly if girlfriend speak eloquently. In a examine led by Todd Rogers, of harvard Kennedy School, attendees were presented clips of politics candidates responding to inquiries by one of two people answering lock or dodging them. Eloquent dodgers were liked much more than ineloquent answerers, however only as soon as their dodges go undetected. An additional effective strategy is deflecting, or answering a probing concern with one more question or a joke. Answerers deserve to use this method to lead the conversation in a different direction.

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CONCLUSION

“Question everything,” Albert Einstein famously said. Personal creativity and organizational invention rely on a willingness to look for out novel information. Questions and also thoughtful answers foster smoother and more-effective interactions, they combine rapport and also trust, and also lead groups toward discovery. All this us have documented in our research. However we think questions and answers have actually a power that goes far beyond matters the performance. The wellspring that all concerns is wonder and curiosity and a capacity for delight. We pose and also respond come queries in the id that the magic of a conversation will create a whole that is greater than the amount of the parts. Sustained an individual engagement and also motivation—in ours lives and our work—require that us are always mindful the the transformative pleasure of asking and also answering questions.