Good Questions Enhance Communication – How?

What good questions do you ask? Questions can be powerful, especially open-ended questions starting with what or how and sometimes a non-intimidating why. Coupled with focused listening, you have here the tools for mastering the art of communication.

Let's establish that in most situations questions will produce better responses than commands. Try this with your teenager and you may be surprised. "What time will you be home?" will usually get better results than, "Remember, your curfew is 11 p.m." If your child tries to test you with a reply of time beyond his/her curfew, then you can always step in with the reminder. Just give him/her the opportunity to communicate with you.

In the workplace, how many times have you asked your boss questions that could be answered with yes or no? Did you get a helpful reply, or one needing more discussion? Perhaps you would have received more complete information if you'd asked what or how? Take a moment and ponder this point. How can you reword a question to start with what or how?

In a job interview, which questions produce better responses from you – those beginning with what, how, and why, or those easily answered with yes or no? Do you feel like you're leaving the response incomplete unless you add additional information? Notice how more comprehensive your response becomes when you're asked a what, how, or why question. Which kind makes you more memorable to the interviewer?

There is an art to asking good questions. One tip is to put yourself in the responder's shoes. How will they feel after answering your question? Hopefully, they'll feel comfortable and willing to continue communicating with you.

The next time you want information from someone, ask the what or how question with respect for the responder in mind. Give it a try! Be mindful of your results and fine tune your future questions. For more information on this topic, check out, "The Art of Asking Questions," on the HBR Blog Network.

Wishing you career success in 2013!


“Horrible Bosses” Strikes a Nerve

Have YOU ever had a "horrible boss?"Almost half of all workers have according to a new OfficeTeam survey as pointed out today by Diane Stafford, the Kansas City Star's careers and business columnist, in her article, "Bad Bosses: Nothing to Laugh About." This number makes sense when you look at how many media outletsBad boss  and blogs are publishing "bad boss" articles as the movie, "Horrible Bosses," is released to the general public this week. Besides the Kansas City Star, I've seen commentary on this subject on,,, (blog), and more.

I can honestly say that I, too, have experience working for a horrible boss – a demanding, demeaning, tyrannical person. But I want to play devil's advocate today. I think it's only fair to walk in a boss's shoes for awhile before casting judgment on so many.

In the present workplace environment influenced by current economic conditions, it takes a lot of skill, poise, and savoir faire to keep a team of disgruntled, tired, and sometimes bored subordinates engaged and productive. Many of these employees are feeling overworked and underpaid before even considering how they feel about their boss. All kinds of surveys have reported that most workers would jump ship if they had a ship to jump to. Furthermore, the boss himself (or herself) may feel the same way about their own jobs, but because they're the boss, they have to follow "mum's the word" on sharing their true feelings.

For example, "bottom line results" is the number one goal in most companies these days. Bosses get leaned on pretty hard by their own bosses – all the way up the line – to squeeze every bit of work out of each person under them. "Do more with less" is the motto of most companies. That kind of pressure can create a lot of stress for a boss. Do you think they enjoy making their people unhappy – really?

Routinely, I have career coaching clients complain to me about their bosses. Some are fearful that they will be terminated based on their boss's behavior toward them. However, most of the time I've seen my clients find some inner peace once they address communication gaps with their bosses. Just yesterday a client confided that she and her boss had a total breakdown in communication over a new, simple procedure involving the use of email to notify outside sources of a situation. An entire procedure had been devised to accommodate this new policy. My client approached the implementation as she always does, using an analytical and logical processing method. On the other hand, her boss's main concern was, "How will this new procedure be regarded by the email recipients?" Bam! Left brain met right brain, a head-on collision. Neither knew how to proceed from their position.

Communication is the real key to success in the workplace, especially when you sprinkle in some empathy. "If you can't get out (of the company), take a deep breath and examine how you can improve communication lines (with your boss)," is part of my quote in today's Kansas City Star article. Try to imagine yourself in your boss's place – what would you do if you were the boss of you?

Approach your boss with open-ended questions to initiate dialog about your communication gap. Listen – really listen – to what your boss says about how you can improve. Don't defend yourself, but ask for guidance on approaching problems from your boss's point of view. Sure, it may not be as comfortable as your space, but give it a chance. No matter where you work, there will be people who look at things differently from you. Maybe sometimes you can get your way, but not always. Play the empathy card and you'll become amazed at how workplace communication slowly starts to improve.

Wishing your career success in 2011!