Three ways to overcome communication barriers by asking better questions

Have you ever struggled to get people talking? Or, once you’ve got them talking, ever grappled with how to keep control of the pace or direction of the conversation?

Here are three ways to ask better questions to overcome these common communication barriers at work.

1. Open things up

Many people don’t know how to get others into a conversation, and once they’re there, don’t know how to keep control of the pace or the direction of it. A great way of doing this is to ask ‘closed’ questions. Start off with words like ‘Do’, ‘Would’, ‘Are’, ‘Will ‘ and ‘If’ and you’ll automatically get a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ in response.

Giving a quick ‘yep’ or ‘nope’ doesn’t ask too much of someone – it doesn’t force them to self-reflect or share too much about themselves, so a series of three (3) closed questions can be a good opener for even the most reluctant conversationalist. They help build a sense of trust and safety, which is a great place to spring from into more ‘open’ questions, which need more lengthy or thoughtful responses.

2. Stay in the driver’s seat

If you want to keep control over the direction of a conversation, you might like to try some tag questions. Adding short add-on phrases like ‘…isn’t it?’ or ‘…don’t you?’ or ‘…can’t they?’ can turn any opinion into something that produces a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response.

You can also get to that elusive agreement more easily by asking a series of three questions with the obvious answer of ‘yes’, before hitting someone up with a big question.

This works because our brains are essentially lazy and will take the path of least resistance and think and say ‘yes’, rather than doing the work needed to disagree.

‘Hey, Josh did a great job of the trade-fair display didn’t he?’, ‘That blue detailing looks great doesn’t it?’, ‘Wouldn’t you love to have ours looking that good?’, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to talk to Sue about increasing the budget for it this year?’

3. Speed things up

A closed question is also great way to speed up the pace of a conversation and keep any wafflers on track.

Asking a question like: ‘If I can arrange for a session, will you attend?’ can give a short and conclusive answer to an otherwise potentially long ramble.

Closed questions like: ‘Are you aware of the deadlines for this project?’ will keep things short, but still sweet.

*Danger – Elephant trap ahead!

One trap for young players to be aware of is to ensure you are not over using closed questions. If you over use closed questions, the receiver can feel interrogated. If you only ever ask things that get a short and snappy response, people can get the sense that you don’t care about their thoughts, feelings or opinions – which can be very demotivating and will erode relationships like there’s no tomorrow.

Getting the rubber hitting the road.

So how can you actually use these questioning techniques to create more traction in your workplace? You can get the ball rolling by picking a technique to focus on each week. Write out three question starters on three sticky notes each week and put them somewhere you’ll see them daily.

Easy, isn’t it?


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ffective communication forms the basis of successful relationships, but it involves more than just speaking or listening well. To communicate effectively, you must adapt in response to particular people and situations, and this requires a willingness to develop your self-awareness and people skills over time. Effective People and Communication 1 day course will equip you with the skills to communicate with confidence and improve your workplace relationships through an increased understanding of yourself and others.