March 22, 2018
In a knowledge economy, your ability to create value is closely tied to your ability to ask a good question.
Let’s be honest: As a manager, you’re not really interested in getting more information. You’re already swimming in information. What you want is insight. Insight fuels your ability to make better management decisions.
The quantity of insight you gain increases in proportion to the quality of the questions you ask. Ask a poor question, and you get no insight. For example, a manager who asks a team member, “Are you staying busy?” might as well be asking, “How’re you doing?” All you’ll get back is a perfunctory response.
Poor questions yield two negative consequences: One, you harvest low-quality information. Second, you risk annoying your team members, making them less willing to share information with you in the future.
To get better insight, you need better questions. If you want people to share things of value, you’ve got to get them to open up.
The key to this process? Open-ended questions. Having a collection of open-ended questions would seem to be a critical part of your management toolkit. However, when you’re in the heat of the moment, asking a good open-ended question is not as easy as it looks. There are two main causes that prevent people from asking a great question (and then shutting up so they can listen to the response).
First, there’s fear of the unknown. When you really inquire about something, you have to be curious and let go of your own agenda for the conversation. This need to let go creates so much anxiety for some people that they have a hard time doing it.
Second, there’s the desire for closure. Being curious means having patience. Open-ended questions mean opening things up (to unexpected or unwelcome responses, to irrelevant responses, and so on), and many people prefer to close things down quickly—even if they are closing down the wrong thing.
Trying to scroll through and find the perfect question at the perfect time is a challenge. Thankfully, there’s an easier way. Instead of trying to craft the flawless question, consider using this super-simple alternative: the TED technique.
TED is an acronym, short for:
Try starting your sentences with one of the three TED words. In this way, you’ll replace questions with a probing prompt. These prompts, by the nature of the TED words, are specifically designed to get the other person to talk. For example:
Use TED, and you’ll spend less time and energy on formulating questions and put more focus on getting better answers. You’ll transform information into insight. And you’ll become a better manager too.