Most of us are guilty of asking too few questions, especially open-ended questions.
They’re one of the most powerful types of communication. Asking questions shows that you’re genuinely interested in your employees’ point of view, you think they’re capable, and it helps bolster your staff’s problem-solving skills. Proactively asking questions can also help prevent miscommunication.
So an open dialogue with your employees – even if these conversations are sometimes less comfortable – can drastically improve the office culture. Alright then, let’s dive into some top questions leaders should ask their employees.
“How are you doing?”
This is a simple question that’s often overlooked. It shows empathy and helps bring humanity into the workplace. It’s true that people may give you an initial answer that’s surface level – “I’m good” or “not too bad.” So be ready with a follow-up question that’s more specific and based on other details you know about them. For example, “How was your trip to see your parents?” or “How’s your dog holding up?”
“What support do you need?”
This question demonstrates that you’re interested in helping your staff be successful. It’s powerful in its openness, as this allows the employee to name the type of support they need. This prevents you from trying to guess what would be most helpful, or even worse, micromanaging them. It’s also a proactive way to check in about any challenges that might be popping up, which can head off problems before they get out of hand.
“What do you think?”
This question is about getting staff engaged, and it shows that you value their input and opinions. When staff doesn’t feel like their boss is interested in their thoughts and ideas, they disengage, “quiet quit,” do the minimum, or avoid taking ownership.
"Part of being successful is about asking questions and listening to the answers." - Anne Burrell
“What’s getting in the way?”
This is another question that helps staff feel supported, and can proactively confront potential roadblocks. This helps staff identify what’s making a task difficult or what’s their sticking point. It also encourages problem-solving and collaboration.
“How would you solve the problem?”
This empowers the employee to learn to solve their own problems. It’s tempting as the leader to swoop in with the answers, and quickly name the solution that you see. But this robs the employee of the chance to build self-sufficiency and confidence.
“What’s something you want to do more of and less of in your job?”
While you can’t always make the answers to this question come to fruition, it can help you get to know your staff better. That way, when tasks do come up you’ll know who the best person is to tackle them. This also helps staff take ownership of the role, and have a voice in how it evolves. When staff work on tasks that they’re passionate about, it increases motivation, efficiency, and work quality.
“Where do you want to be in three years?”
This is another age-old question, but supporting your employee’s bigger-picture career goals can improve both retention and job satisfaction. It’s important to communicate that you care about their personal growth, beyond the company’s sake. Perhaps counterintuitively, this builds loyalty to the company by increasing trust and connection.
“What’s another way we could approach this?”
It’s easy to get stuck in a “the way we’ve always done it” mindset. This question is about making space to think differently and be creative. Innovation is important for companies, especially in today’s world of extreme change. So this question gets employees actively engaged in exploring new perspectives, brainstorming, and innovating in order to re-think inefficient or tired methods. It also encourages collaboration, rather than the leader being the brilliant innovator.
“Did I get that right?”
This question is about clarifying what a teammate is telling you. It demonstrates that you’re listening and that you’re really trying to understand where they’re coming from. It also helps prevent miscommunication. Basically, just repeat back what you understood your employee’s statement or question to be. This can be like, “Ok, it sounds like you’re needing some clarification on which things are the highest priority. Did I get that right?”