Ask More, Tell Less: The Power of Questions

Do you want more engaged conversations and willing participation? You may like to try out some more open questions and resist the urge to speak first.

Asking thoughtful questions draws people in. You’re more likely to get richer insights and new, innovative solutions. Yet many of us find it hard to resist being seen as the “expert,” sharing our ideas first in the hope of motivating or inspiring thoughts in others. But the truth is, if others aren’t already bought in to your solution or suggestion, this is not going to engage them with the topic in the slightest.


Why Questions Matter

Asking questions can show your sincere interest in understanding different perspectives. It creates space for other people to unpack their thinking and it can allow them to time and space to feel heard. Rather than unintentionally imposing your thoughts or judgments, you learn what genuinely resonates for them.

Questions give people the opportunity to solve their own challenges. Instead of handing down directives, the right questions will guide them to their own breakthroughs. This empowers them and can create buy-in when creating something new or seeking a lasting change.

The most constructive questions come from a place of genuine curiosity rather than hidden agendas. Imagine what you might learn if you were open to being surprised by what you hear and you were able to let go of your assumptions. Creating that psychologically safe climate for honesty is also important.

Questions also help ideas land clearly. When you explore ideas through curious inquiry people are better able to understand. Their own connections and conclusions resonate and stick better than simply hearing your thoughts, as they will have explored and processed the situation more deeply.


Best Practices for Impactful Inquiry

As a starting point, it is usually helpful to lead with open-ended questions starting with “What,” “How,” “Where,” “When,” or “Who”. However, do be cautious with the potentially off-putting “Why” questions and only use them when absolutely appropriate. Why? They can sound more judgemental than curious.  Go broad before narrowing focus.

Try to follow up on ideas by using phrases like “Tell me more” to keep momentum flowing. Resist the temptation to interject your opinions unless it’s a good time to do so.

Perhaps ask for examples or observations that make things more tangible. This will help you both to move from abstract ideas to practical stages, tasks, and ultimately to goals.

Do invite and encourage creative solutions before offering your own. It’s good to discover other people’s innovativeness first; that’s why brainstorming without judgement or evaluating ideas can be a successful approach.

Help people explore their own challenges rather than resolving issues for them too quickly. The process you guide them through can be as impactful as the answers they arrive at.

And finally, when sharing your own perspectives, it can be helpful to reframe definitive statements as questions. Rather than setting out to convince someone to adopt your ideas, why not invite more ongoing exploration? You never know what you might create together.


Asking Instead of Telling

Using thoughtful inquiry and effective questioning really can create great conversations. Minds can close when being told but they can open to curious exploration.

I invite you to give it a try. Before declaring your knowledge or expressing your ideas, resist that urge and instead listen deeply. Meet people where they are, ask to learn not tell, and set your assumptions aside. Patient, open questions will breathe new life, direction and commitment into every conversation you have.


Want to know more?

Sarah Harvey is Founding Director of Savvy Conversations Ltd and author of the highly acclaimed book “Savvy Conversations: A practical framework for effective workplace relationships.”


Linked In:

X (Formerly Twitter): @SarahSavvySarah

Instagram: savvysarah


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