Whether you’re an organizational leader, an educator, or a parent, asking good questions is a key skill to build strong relationships with one another. Many of us have never thought about how we ask questions or what it may feel like to be on the other end of our questions. To build better relationships, it’s important to know how to ask good questions.

Make questions open-ended

One of the best skills to adopt when you’re learning how to ask good questions is to ask open-ended. In short, refrain from asking questions that elicit a yes or no response or other one word answer. For example, rather than asking “how are you today” (which will likely lead to a “fine” or “good”) ask “what was the highlight of your day.” This small shift in phrasing opens the door to a more detailed response and indicates a level of interest more genuine and engaging. 

Ask tell me questions

The powerful words “tell me…” are another door opener to conversation. While not technically a question, it’s a way to turn a question into a dialogue. When you need an answer or are trying to build a bridge to understanding, use “tell me” as often as you can. For example, instead of asking “what did say to your boss,” say “tell me about the conversation with your boss today?” By changing this wording, you indicate that you want to know more details about a conversation, experience, or decision. You also let them know that you care about their day and their life. Tell me phrases allow the other person to share what’s most important to them and is a powerful way to ask good questions. 

Avoid starting questions with “why”

In general, “why” questions put people on the defensive. The other person immediately feels the need to explain or defend their decision, even if that’s not what you intended. To ask good questions, start with what, how, or when instead of why. Rather than asking “why did you do that,” try asking “what prompted your decision” or “how did you choose to move forward?” These kinds of questions acknowledge that there were various choices in front of the person and you want to understand the motivation or reasoning behind the choice. If you happen to disagree with the decision, you have more equity for challenging the decision if you understand the thought process first.   

Experiment with new questions

We all tend to ask the same questions of one another more often than we think. Our default questions can become dull and when you’re aware of what they are, you can make a conscious decision to try something new and ask good questions that are fresh. This is particularly helpful if you’re a team leader. Consider how you can ask new questions in your one-on-one’s or in a team meeting. The element of freshness will bring new life to old conversations. 

Learning how to ask good questions takes time and attention. Choose one of the tips from above and see how you can begin to practice it in your relationships today.