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Questions For Effective Communication

by: Robert F. Abbott



Brevity. Saying what needs to be said in the least number of words; it's a challenge for most of us, including many professional writers and speakers. Mark Twain famously noted that if he'd had more time, he'd have written a shorter letter.

This is also true of the art and science of asking questions, and remember that good questions are critical in effective communication.

I used to be a radio news reporter and announcer, so I've asked more than my share of unscripted questions. And, I'll admit it can be just as difficult to ask a concise question as it is to write a concise document.

In asking questions, and especially when we do it without notes, several things happen. First, we try to provide context that guides the answer. For example, consider the reporter who asks this kind of question: "Given that we only have another two months before the end of the season, and given that you're having trouble meeting your budget as it is, do you expect the expansion to proceed?" The concise question, of course, would simply be, "Do you expect the expansion to proceed?"

To avoid this kind of preamble and to make your question more concise, ask yourself who needs the context. In most cases, the person being interviewed doesn't need it.

We might also use long, drawn out questions to give ourselves time to formulate a new question as we speak. We also may ramble as we try to figure out exactly how to word the question, or to achieve some unspoken purpose.

Or, we may ramble if we want to impress the person being questioned, or others. Watch questioners sometimes try to steal the show, in effect, with their questions. They're using the questions as a platform to flaunt their knowledge or promote their position.

Now that we've explored the reasons for questions that are too long, here are a few recommendations:


First, articulate, for yourself, why you're asking the questions and identify what kind of information you want to collect. If it's social chatter, then you're probably just looking for connections between yourself and the other person. On the other hand, if you're interviewing a potential employee, then you'll question strategically, to find out about the other person's character, experience, and expertise.

Second, stay focused on one issue at a time. If you try to gather information about several subjects in one question, you probably won't get useful responses to any of them.

Third, ask follow-up questions. The first answer usually provides a springboard for the next question, and so on. Probe more deeply or widen the circle with follow-up questions.

Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, listen. Probably no other aspect of interviewing or asking questions is as frequently ignored. All too often, questioners ask their question, but essentially ignore the response as they try to figure out their next question. What we should do instead is look at the other person and listen to the whole message, including the words, the way the words are expressed, and the body language. Only then will we grasp the answer well enough to ask a good follow-up question, one that qualifies as a concise, effective question!

In summary, good questions for effective communication involve knowing what kind of information you want, staying focused on one issue at a time, and listening as carefully as you speak.


About The Author:

Robert F. Abbott, is the author of "3 Easy Ways to Power Up Your Writing." Increase your mastery of business communication by reading his easy-to-understand articles at Read dozens of articles in several business communication categories.

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