[Editor’s note: This is the fourth installment in Jennifer Abrams’ ‘Personal Development’ column for eSchool News. In her columns, Abrams focuses on leadership skills for anyone working in a school or district. Read more about the column here.]  

“How was your winter holiday?”
“What are your resolutions for 2018?”
“How are you today?”

Lots of eager ears are awaiting your responses. Or are they? And are you interested in answering those questions?

Questioning is big. From The Right Question Institute to A More Beautiful Question to books like A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas and Make Just One Change: Teach Students to Ask Their Own Questions, we are all working on asking better questions.

Questions can open up conversations and they can shut them down in a flash. “Why did you do that?” “How could you have done that better?” “What were you thinking?” These are questions but they diminish the person you are asking the question of. Embedded in these questions is “You were wrong” or “You didn’t do well enough.” Those questions imply fault and judgment.

How to ask the questions people want to answer

The questions I like to answer have a few elements embedded in them that open up the conversation, trust in my capacity, and assume that I can reflect and can answer them well. Those types of questions include the following pieces:

1) The person who is asking the question waits for me to answer. Have you ever answered a question for someone else? “How are you today? Good?” You just answered for the other person before they got a chance to do it themselves! Pausing and waiting for an answer is a sign of respect. Wait time in classrooms for students is a given, but often the adults are more impatient with each other. Adults need space to answer as well. Generous listeners pause.

(Next page: What else makes for a good question?)

About the Author:

Jennifer Abrams is an international education and communications consultant. She considers herself a voice coach, helping others learn how to best use their voices–be it collaborating on a team, presenting in front of an audience, coaching a colleague, or supervising an employee. Abrams’ books include Having Hard Conversations, The Multigenerational Workplace: Communicate, Collaborate, and Create Community, and Hard Conversations Unpacked: the Whos, the Whens, and the What Ifs. She has also created a Corwin Press e-course. Abrams writes a monthly newsletter/blog, Voice Lessons, at www.jenniferabrams.com. Follow her on Twitter @jenniferabrams.