What are effective questioning techniques? An overview

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 26 April 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

It's useful to ask questions at work regularly. By doing so, you can assert more control over your professional life, boosting your work-life balance. Learning ahead of time to better recognise how to use questions in a professional context can help you later on in the workplace. In this article, we define effective questioning techniques, discuss different types of questioning techniques, outline industries where these skills are useful and explain how to build your own questioning skills.

What are effective questioning techniques?

Effective questioning techniques are strategies you could use to source information from other people, such as advice about performing work duties. You can use these techniques to predict how a colleague may answer the same question before asking the most appropriate person for advice. You can also alter the tone and structure of a question to suit its recipient, boosting the likelihood of a positive response. Familiarising yourself with these techniques, you can assert more control over your work routine.

Types of questioning techniques to use

Depending on the intent behind your query, you could adapt the questioning style to suit its general context. You then boost the likelihood of receiving the answer you seek. The following section detail four types of questioning techniques you could use at work:

Informative questions

If you're looking for a detailed answer, it's advisable that you begin your question with an interrogative word, such as why, how or what. By taking this approach, you can compel the query's recipient to respond thoroughly, rather than offering a simple yes or no answer. You could then more easily source the information required, overcoming a problem quickly rather than letting it linger.

For example, if you're unsure how to access your office's printer, it's useful to ask a colleague an interrogative question, such as 'How can I send a file to print?'. If they're not otherwise occupied, they might then respond by explaining the process. You can use this knowledge to perform this duty autonomously in the future, raising your productivity.

Leading questions

If you're looking for a predetermined answer, you could deploy a leading question when in conversation with a colleague or customer. By doing so, you can steer the question's recipient towards an outcome favourable to yourself, such as a large sale or a more positive workplace culture. You could use emotionally charged and subjective language within your question to nudge your counterpart towards that set answer.

For example, if you're trying to convince a customer to buy an expensive car, you can ask questions that lead towards affirmative answers, such as 'Does this car suit your needs?'. Given they're already looking to buy a new car, customers are more likely to respond with yes. You can then use this positivity to emphasise the model's benefits further, potentially securing the sale.

Funnel questions

If you want to build stronger relationships with colleagues, you could consider asking them a series of funnel questions. By taking this approach, you initially ask questions on general topics, before moving towards more private subjects later on. You can then establish mutually trusting relationships, creating a more unified work environment.

For example, if you're tasked with integrating new employees into an office, you could use funnel questioning techniques to reduce their nervousness. You could begin with more general questions, such as 'What previous positions have you held in this industry?'. You can gradually shift the conversation towards more personal topics if they're prepared to discuss them. By doing so, you can make them feel more comfortable in an unfamiliar environment.

Deductive questions

If you're assessing your counterpart's soft skills, it could be useful to ask a deductive question. For example, if you're interviewing a job applicant, you could ask a question unrelated to the wider topic, to analyse their problem-solving skills. Depending on whether they successfully solve a puzzle, you could make an informed judgement on whether they're a suitable employee for your organisation.

Related: 6 brain teaser interview questions and how to answer them

Common industries to use questioning techniques

Though you can use questioning techniques in any professional context, they're often more relevant to some industries than others. The following section outlines four such industries:

Sales jobs

It's important to be well-versed in questioning techniques when working in sales. For example, as a sales assistant, you can use questioning techniques to keep customers at ease during their shopping experience. You could enquire about how their day had been, or ask if they found everything they were looking for in-store. You could also use questioning techniques to better communicate with co-workers about work duties, such as restocking shelves. You could then improve general productivity.

Related: 'Why sales' job interview question: how to answer (with examples)

Nursing jobs

Given the highly collaborative nature of nursing, it's also important to utilise effective questioning techniques when working in this industry. For example, you can use informative techniques when consulting patients to more accurately diagnose their problems. You could also combine this approach with funnel questioning, as by instilling trust, you can more easily convince patients to discuss their health openly.

Related: Nursing skills: definitions and examples

Counselling jobs

If you're working as a counsellor, it can be particularly useful to understand effective questioning techniques. For example, if you're discussing personal issues with a client, you could initially find it hard to convince them to speak truthfully. In this scenario, it's advisable to use informative techniques to coax honesty by deterring clients from only offering vague answers. You could also set leading questions to gently steer clients towards honesty without overt compulsion.

Related: 10 essential counsellor skills

Teaching jobs

You could also find questioning techniques to be useful in education, especially when working with children. For example, you could ask an informative question towards the end of a lesson, to recap the overall subject and preserve that knowledge within pupils' minds. It's also useful to encourage pupils to discuss their work with each other so that they can learn to solve problems without your help.

Related: Teaching skills: definition and examples

How to develop better questioning skills

The section below outlines four tips that you could follow to improve your own questioning skills:

1. Ask questions regularly

It's advisable that you regularly practice asking questions, both in the workplace and in social contexts. By doing so, you can gradually learn to become more assertive, raising your self-esteem as you secure more control over your professional life. You could then improve your work-life balance, thus reducing your stress levels.

For example, if you regularly work overtime, you could feel that your organisation takes your professionalism for granted. By practising asking questions to friends or colleagues, you can try to build up the confidence to be more assertive with senior staff. You could then improve both your mental health and work-life balance.

2. Understand the recipient

Before asking a question, it's also useful to consider your relationship with its recipient, altering style, tone or environment accordingly. By doing so, you can more effectively communicate your intended message, raising your chances of securing a positive answer.

For example, if you want to ask a management-level figure about receiving a pay increase, it's useful to show respect for both their authority and the firm's financial situation. Before asking the key question, you could ask them to join you in a private space, reflecting the formal nature of your question. You could then outline your request, acknowledging both your circumstances and the firm's finances. The manager may appreciate such candour, potentially persuading them to accept your request.

Related: Types of communicators at work (and how to deal with them)

3. Use concise language

You could also benefit from using simple terms and shorter sentences to ensure a recipient understands the message conveyed. By speaking clearly, you can prevent the overall point from being lost amongst masses of irrelevant information. You could also avoid patronising colleagues by making it easier for them to respond with their own opinions.

For example, when asking a coworker to cover your shift, you could express sympathy for the burden you're placing on them by using simple terms, such as sorry or grateful. By using such routine terms, your apology could seem more genuine, increasing the likelihood that they agree to help you.

4. Prepare in advance

It's advisable to prepare both the question and any counter-points in advance, especially when speaking to a senior employee. By taking this approach, you can reduce the stress associated with the conversation, especially if you're making an awkward request. You can then avoid muddling your words, raising the likelihood that the conversation can conclude positively.

For example, before asking your manager for an unscheduled holiday, it's important to plan the conversation in advance, to both explain your request and resolve any resulting issues. You could then more easily reach a negotiated compromise, fulfilling your wish without causing any problems for other employees.

Disclaimer: The model shown is for illustration purposes only, and may require additional formatting to meet accepted standards.


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