Communication tools: Asking effective questions

Asking effective questions (Appreciative Inquiry)

It took one question from Warren Buffett to make Bill Gates completely rethink Microsoft.

“One of the first questions he asked me was. Hey, Microsoft is a small company, IBM is this huge company, why can you do better? Why can’t they beat you at the software game that you’re playing?” Gates told the audience at Columbia University.

This question made Gates think; “I always – every day I was thinking about, okay, what advantage do we have, what do we do?” The question Buffett posed was evidently an effective question.

Effective questioning

Clearly, good questioning can motivate teams and have a positive effect. Yet many of us never learn how to adopt simple techniques to improve our questioning. Business owners can strengthen and build positive systems by simply learning how to ask questions effectively. Furthermore, management could be a positive source in the organisation and create fertile grounds for positive thinking by asking good questions.

Case Study Continues

In part one of this series, we discussed John, a line manager who identified that productivity had dropped in his department over the past years. We explored viewpoints from a positive psychology perspective to discover the reasons for the change.

Questions that made a difference

It is not difficult to ask good questions. Cooperrider and Whitney’s (2000), provide a simple four-dimensional formula to help you. Appreciative Inquiry is a framework for powerful questioning that has four cycles, including discovery, dreaming, design and destiny. For John’s team, we framed the questions the following way:

  • Discovery: First, look into the past to find a time when the team was highly productive, what worked?
    Example,  Tell me about a time when things worked for you, a time when you felt motivated.
  • Dreaming: Encourage the team to imagine how to return to that way of being.
    Example, Why would you be able to be productive if you function in that way again?
  • Design: Identify areas that could contribute to making the dream a reality.
    Example, Identify areas where you can do better
  • Destiny: Focus on an action plan and put goals in place to realise change.
    Example, Since you know why you can improve, how can we make the change?

Warren Buffett posed his question to Bill Gates in a positive way, “why can you do better?”

By framing questions in the right way, we were able to get to the root of the problem. Since we engaged the team, they participated in the change. In the next article: Positive Interventions: Coping in Stressful Working Environments, we will go into more details on the findings.

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Cooperrider, D. L., Whitney, D. & Stavros, J. M. (2008). Appreciative Inquiry Handbook: For Leaders of Change (2nd ed.). Brunswick, OH: Crown Custom Publishing.

Cooperrider, D., & Whitney, D. (2000). A positive revolution in change: Appreciative inquiry.