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Ask great questions to receive great feedback (note: “Any questions?” is not one of them)

  —  17/10/23

Greg stood in front of his department after finishing a presentation on the new redundancy and restructure program that would be introduced in the coming months in a bid to reduce the workforce by 20 per cent.

“Any questions?” he asked, looking around the sea of 60+ faces.

No one put their hand up. No one answered.

“None at all?” Greg prompted. “I’m happy to answer them.”

Still nothing. Crickets chirping. They gave him silence.

Of course, the lack of questions asked of Greg publicly in this forum did not mean there were no questions. Everyone had questions but they were too afraid, insecure, worried or nervous to ask them in a group environment when it was an open floor “any questions” situation.

The risk here was that Greg walked away thinking, “Job done. I asked if anyone had questions, I gave them the opportunity to ask them, and they didn’t. So either there are no questions or it’s their fault for not asking them.”

Now, there were likely lots of things going on in this situation – a lack of psychological safety in the room being one of them. But the generic framing of Greg’s “any questions?” question was also part of the problem.

Was he really open to ANY questions? Because his question was so broad and generic, people did not feel brave enough to ask anything. What if they asked the “wrong” question? Then what? There was too much risk.

The quality of the feedback you receive directly corresponds with the quality of the questions you ask.

My advice here? Ask open-ended questions with direction. Make them broad enough to encourage a variety of answers, but specific enough to give people something to work with.

Here are some examples of open-ended questions you may want to ask your team as you navigate change:

  • Based on the information I’ve given you, what’s the number one question you have?
  • How can we best implement the change?
  • What support do you need to succeed?
  • How can I help?
  • What else do you want to know?
  • What’s your biggest concern about the change?
  • What is something we may not have considered that you want us to keep front of mind when we’re implementing this change?
  • What questions do you still have that we haven’t answered and you’re likely to ask each other about when you walk away from this meeting?
  • What was your key takeaway from that update?
  • What questions would you like me to try to get answered for you?

Try it the next time you’re seeking feedback from others. Unless of course you really don’t want any questions: in that case, go ahead and ask “Any questions?”

Leah Mether is a communication and soft skills trainer obsessed with making the people part of leadership and work life easier.

With more than 15 years’ experience working with thousands of clients, and an acclaimed book to her name, Leah knows what it takes to communicate under pressure. Like you, she knows the challenge of conflict, personality clashes, and difficult conversations.

Leah is renowned for her practical, engaging, straight-shooting style. Utilising her Five Cs® model of communication, she helps leaders and teams shift from knowing to doing, and radically improve their effectiveness.

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