Questioning skills for managers – ask more, tell less

Less talking and more asking using effective questioning techniques to achieve a better outcome.

The ability to use questioning techniques effectively and choose the right type of questions in different situations is an important skill for supervisors, managers, and leaders.

Even if you are not in a professional leadership role, exceptional questioning skills will help you stand out as a natural leader and set you up for success in a wide variety of business and personal situations.

As a manager, effectively questioning others will help you manage performance, feedback and conflicts with your team. Leading with questions will make the difficult conversations that managers often dread, such as addressing poor performance, much easier. It will also increase your chances of getting the outcome you want without damaging your relationships. In fact, asking the right questions can help to strengthen and develop your relationships, even in scenarios where you are delivering bad news.

Effective questions encourage others to think. It’s far more important that you are able to ask your team good questions than it is to show you can supply them with all the answers.

There are many types of questions and techniques you can use, however the basic principle is: Whenever you can, always ask rather than tell.

Open questions

Example: What data do you need to produce these reports?

Open questions are used to gain elaborations and explanations. They require more than a single word or ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response. These types of questions require a description or story.

Open questions are often used at the start of a conversation because they:

  • Get people talking and assist discussion balance.
  • Can be a way of building rapport.
  • Help customers learn more about the business and vice versa.
  • Assist with breaking down resistance.
  • Help you uncover expectations.

Open questions usually start with:

  • Tell me about…
  • What…
  • Which…
  • Where…
  • Who…
  • How…

Closed questions

Example: Do you have all the data you need to produce these reports?

Closed questions are used for gathering specific information. They resemble multiple choice or true and false type questions. The responses are often a single word or ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

Closed questions start with:

  • Are….
  • Can…
  • Will…
  • Do…
  • Is…

When you must use closed questions, be careful of the following:

  • At the start of a conversation, closed questions can restrict the flow. Consider whether you could frame your question differently.
  • If you answer your own closed questions, even though you have asked a question, you are still asking rather than telling.
  • Asking too many closed questions in a row can or repeating the same question several times can seem like an interrogation and upset people.

Converting closed questions to open questions

If you require a more elaborate answer than ‘yes’ or ‘no’, you can convert a closed question to an open question. For example, the following question can be asked a different way to get a different response:

  • Do you have all the data you need to produce these reports? (Closed)
  • What data do you need to produce these reports? (Open)

Clarifying Questions

Example: To clarify, you need the product x sales data from last year?

To be effective in questioning, in addition to the ability to ask the right questions, you will need to be a good listener.

Clarifying questions are ‘playback’ of what you have heard. Use these sort of questions to clarify that you have understood or when you would like a little more information.

Clarifying question serve three functions, they:

  • show the other person that you are listening and that their responses are valuable.
  • help check the implications of what you have heard.
  • encourage the respondent to provide more details and correct any misunderstandings.

Confirming Questions

Example: To confirm, once I provide you with the sales data for this year you will produce the reports?

Confirming questions allow you to check for understanding, facts and perceptions. For example:

  • Have I understood you correctly concerning…?
  • That was brand…?


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Odyssey Training’s mission is to help emerging and frontline managers achieve positive, long-term behavioural change for themselves and their teams. We achieve this through practical high-quality leadership programs, self-directed action planning and embedded learning support.  Our leadership courses run over one to two days giving you exposure to theories, concepts and real-life examples of managing issues. Our leadership courses teach you the essential skills you need for the workforce including how to deal with coaching in the workplacemanaging people performance and two day courses such as Supervision and People Management or Emerging Leaders.