The Questions You Should Never Ask (If you want honest feedback).Jun 04, 2023
See if you recognize these scenarios.
- You’ve come to the end of your presentation. Hopefully the client is pleased with the results. So, you ask:
Did that answer your question?
Did that meet your needs?
Was that what you wanted?
- You’ve walked through a complex set of tables, providing details about an important challenge. And you ask:
Does that make sense?
In business, we hear (or use) these questions all the time. So common and natural, they seem to come out of our mouths automatically. The intention behind these questions is positive and understandable: to confirm our work has delivered value.
Begging for “yes.”
I call these questions “begging-for-yes questions” because that is the answer you will get 90% (or more) of the time. When faced with a yes-no question, people tend to respond affirmatively. The results that you deliver likely meet at least some of their needs. So, given only two response options, they nod.
Even more extreme, the “does that make sense?” question will get a yes closer to 99% of the time. Especially if we ask in a group setting with people we don’t know well.
People do not like to admit they don’t understand. Particularly in front of others, and especially in front of their boss.
Even if you don’t intend to embarrass anyone or put them on the spot, it can feel that way. Yes-no questions, where the answer no could imply that they are not smart, will provoke an automatic yes.
If you really want feedback.
Most likely, the true answer in these scenarios will fall somewhere in between yes and no.
Even if you provide excellent, clear, straightforward results, the other person will usually have additional clarifications, interests, or follow-up questions. Plus, if you honestly want to know if the other person can make sense of what you told them, it helps to give them a safe opportunity to talk about it.
To do this, we begin by framing questions in a way that acknowledges and normalizes the possibility of confusion or dissatisfaction with the results. We want others to know it would be natural to have questions. This sounds like:
Because this is the first time you’ve seen these results…
I realize I’ve thrown a lot of detail at you…
Given that we’ve covered a lot of new material…
Then we ask an open-ended question with a wide range of possible answers.
I’m wondering, what are your initial impressions?
I’m interested in your thoughts about what you’ve heard so far…
By doing this, the other person hears that it would be natural to need further clarification, to have questions, or to have a variety of comments about what they have heard. Further, they hear an open invitation to share whatever they think appropriate.
If the presentation was clear, understandable, and on target, the person will say something like: This is great, exactly what I needed.
If the presentation was mostly on target, the person may say something like: Thanks, I understand X, but does that also mean Y?
If a person doesn’t understand, they may say something like: Yeah, I think this is what I need, but can you go over that second table again?
These questions solicit the client’s authentic response, whether confused, questioning, enlightened, or satisfied. The resulting conversation helps to move the project forward, revising it or completing it as warranted. Instead of feeling pushed into a cryptic, affirmative response, the client feels more like a collaborator in the process.
To find out if the results were valuable.
Rather than the typical, binary “Did this meet your needs?”, we want a question that allows for an answer somewhere in between.
By asking I’m wondering, how well did this analysis meet your needs?, the person has room to express both what did and what did not meet their needs. Again, this open-ended question encourages a dialog. This helps everyone get further aligned and promotes better understanding.
Notice your own questions.
The next time you are wrapping up a meeting, notice what questions you use. Are you begging for yes? Do your clients feel safe expressing whatever reaction they have, regardless of whether it is positive or negative?
Don’t be surprised to find how these common yes or no’s have become automatic. Even though I am usually aware and work hard to ask open-ended questions, I occasionally hear myself asking one of the begging-for-yes questions. When I notice, I correct myself.
Did that answer your question? (me inside: yikes)
Then, a correction:
What I mean is, after hearing what we’ve covered for the first time, what are your initial thoughts about what we presented?
How well did this answer your question?
Try out these open-ended options instead. Then notice how the feedback you receive changes.