More Effective Questioning

Bad Questions

Kerry Patterson, Crucial Conversations

The Lure for failure: Entrapment – where one lures the other into denying a problem, only to punish him or her for lying.

  • It goes something like this “How were things at school today?” “Fine. Same old stuff.” “Fine!’. The headmaster told me of a food fight ….”
  • Most people despise these indirect techniques. They’re dishonest, manipulative and insulting – and quite common.

Forcing Mind Reading. Making the other guess what’s on your mind.

  • “Why do you think I called you this morning?”
  • This tactic is as irritating as it is ineffective. Despite good intentions asking others to read your mind typically comes off as extremely patronising or manipulative.

Asking questions that are not questions but really insults with a question mark.

  • “Why didn’t you have the initiative to call your mum?”
  • “Why are you such a dork?”

Leading Questions

    • Leading questions try to lead the respondent to your way of thinking. Note that leading questions tend to be closed. They can do this in several ways:
      • With an assumption: “How late do you think that the project will deliver?”. This assumes that the project will certainly not be completed on time.
      • By adding a personal appeal to agree at the end: “Lori’s very efficient, don’t you think?” or “Option 2 is better, isn’t it?”
      • Phrasing the question so that the “easiest” response is “yes” (our natural tendency to prefer to say “yes” than “no” plays an important part in the phrasing of referendum questions): “Shall we all approve Option 2?” is more likely to get a positive response than “Do you want to approve option 2 or not?”. A good way of doing this is to make it personal. For example, “Would you like me to go ahead with Option 2?” rather than “Shall I choose Option 2?”.Giving people a choice between two options, both of which you would be happy with, rather than the choice of one option or not doing anything at all. Strictly speaking, the choice of “neither” is still available when you ask, “Which would you prefer of A or B”, but most people will be caught up in deciding between your two preferences.
      • Getting the answer you want but leaving the other person feeling that they have had a choice. BUT If you use them in a self-serving way or one that harms the interests of the other person, then they can, quite rightly, be seen as manipulative and dishonest.

Ask Neutral and Open Questions (Clean Questions)

(Ready, et al., 2004)

Understanding the Current Perception


  • And, is there anything else about …?
  • And what kind of…?
  • And what kind of…?
  • And where/whereabouts is …. ?


  • And is there a relationship between… and …?
  • And when what happens to…?


  • And that’s … Like what?
  • What does…. feel like in this case/ situation?


Understanding Time
Before o And what happens just before…?
After o And then what happens/what happens next?
Source o And where does/could … come from?


Intention and Motivation
Desired Outcome


  • And what would you like to have happen?
  • And what will that get for you ….?
  • What is a successful result/outcome for you?
  • What matters to you here?
Necessary Conditions
  • And what needs to happen for this desired outcome to be reached?
  • And can…?
Final Questions
  • And … (summarise a few of their previous words) … is there anything else?

11 Tips for Effective Questions