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Timothy F. Bednarz

Quality Insider

Leaders Need to Focus on Questions Rather Than Answers

The questioner serves as an inner voice and encourages disciplined thinking

Published: Monday, March 11, 2013 - 16:53

When there is a problem, where do leaders begin to address it? A good place to start is going to the employees directly affected by the problem and asking questions about the issue—without it seeming like an inquisition. Developing a tactical approach to questioning employees to understand problems will also save time and money.

Questioning for thought-provoking insight and understanding, and for inducing more in-depth thinking in another individual, is a highly disciplined process. The questioner must act as “an inner critical voice,” which expands the other person’s mind to skillfully develop deeper critical thinking abilities. All of the thoughts must be dealt with, weighed, and carefully analyzed in an unbiased and fair manner.

If leaders follow up on all of the answers initially given by employees with further questions that work to advance the discussion, employees are forced to think in a disciplined and intellectually responsible manner. At the same time the questioning process continually aids the leaders’ own agenda to gain more insight and knowledge through posing selective yet effective lead-ins.

The oldest and most powerful tool for instilling critical thinking and mental self-evaluation is questioning. To gather as much usable information as possible, and to change individual perceptions about something, leaders must remain focused on interjecting questions to employees, rather than offering answers.

It is important to use very specific questions to continually probing employees on topics, subject-related contexts, or mental thinking patterns. Focusing on the elements of reasoning in a disciplined and self-assessing way enhances employees’ sensitivity to others’ viewpoints, problem-solving techniques, and decision-making skills. A solid questioning process also helps provide a more balanced mental structure and framework to use in the future, which results from generating and incorporating logical mental relationships.

There are three basic ways to instill changes and alterations in employees’ thinking:
• Questioning them for viewpoints and perspectives
• Questioning them for implications and consequences
• Questioning them about the question being asked

Questioning for viewpoints and perspectives

As the discussion and questioning leader, it is important to encourage employees to slow their thinking down so they can elaborate on their responses. Employees must be given the opportunity to develop and test their ideas, standpoints, and opinions. Leaders must take employee responses seriously and determine to what extent and in what way the information or assertion is true, or if it makes sense. To do this, leaders need to wonder aloud what the employee is saying and thinking, what the person means, the response’s significance, its relationship to other beliefs, and how what is being said can be tested for its reliability.

Often employees argue from a particular yet structured point of view. As part of the “questioning for viewpoints and perspectives” process, it is essential to address the argument from a tactical position. It’s often necessary to demonstrate that there may be other, equally valid, viewpoints. Examples of specific questions that can generate alternative viewpoints include:

• What else could be accomplished by doing ____?
• If we don’t have access to ____ or can’t use ____, what do you think should be done?
• What are the positives and negatives of ____?
• How do you think ____ and ____ are alike?
• Another way to think about this is ____; do you agree?

Implications and consequences questions

The argument that employees often give may have logical implications, which can be challenged. From an “implications and consequence questioning” position, employees should have their arguments challenged. The process requires them to think about whether their argument or stance makes sense, and if what they say is desirable and meaningful. Some examples of argument-challenging questions include:

• What are you implying by saying that?
• What else does this remind you of?
• How does this information fit into the things we have already learned?
• What implications does ____ have on this?
• Why is this necessary to know?
• What do you think would happen next?
• What is an alternative to this?
• If what you said happened, what else could happen as a result? Why?

Questions about the question

Questions about the question tend to be more reflective. The purpose of questioning a question is to turn an argument, statement, or question back on itself. In other words, leaders can use questions like the ones below to help employees reflect on their personal argument, position, or stance:

• How can we find out more about what you are saying (or asking)?
• What assumptions does this question imply?
• Why do you feel this question is important?
• To answer this particular question, what questions would have to be answered first?
• Does this certain question ask us to evaluate something in particular?
• What is the point of asking about ____?
• Why do you think the question you asked is important for (me, us) to consider?
• Why did you phrase this particular question in the way that you did?
• Does this question fit into the context of our discussion?
• What does this particular (question, stance, position, or opinion) imply?
• Is it possible to break this question down at all into one or two other questions?
• Do you think this question is easy or hard to answer? Why?
• Does this question seem clear to you?


Excerpted from: Effective Questioning Techniques: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, 2011).


About The Author

Timothy F. Bednarz’s picture

Timothy F. Bednarz

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D., is an accomplished author, researcher, consultant, entrepreneur, and innovator. He has founded three successful companies and has more than 26 years consulting experience in business development. As a critical thinker and transformational agent of change, he has the ability to view complex issues, identifying specific causes to develop meaningful solutions in simple terms. He has authored more than 125 books as well as a wide variety of high quality learning content. His latest book is Great! What Makes Leaders Great (Majorium Business Press, 2012). He is the author of more than 85 books in the Pinpoint Skill Development Training Series.