Looking at ways to improve your communication is very valuable and something everyone can afford to do.  My last article I discussed how to improve your communication skills by listening better , and now I’ll explore how to use regular questions to better communicate with others.

Stay Engaged

Asking questions is a simple way to stay engaged when communicating with someone.  It shows interest and encourages the other person to keep communicating.  If you don’t show any interest in continuing a conversation, it often ends without making any ground.  Asking questions helps you to keep that person going into more detail or to branch the discussion into related areas.  Its important to keep the questions on topic and don’t use them to steer the conversation in your own way.

Always ask Ask open ended questions to keep the conversation moving forward. These are questions that require some explanation to answer, such as "Why do you think that is important?"  Closed questions tend to end topics quickly since it gives little to no room for a party to elaborate on their response, they are simply yes/no type of questions.  Keeping yourself and the other party engaged is an important way to have better communication, and asking questions is a powerful tool to ensure that happens.

Ensure Understanding

Communication is not just someone telling things to someone else.  It is about how that communication is received and understood.  You can use questions to ensure that you understand as well that the other person understands what you have to say.  Questions can help you to clarify the content of communication and they provide a tool that you can use to ensure there is understanding from the other party as well.  Ask someone to elaborate on a statement, or ask about what they think of something or perhaps even ask if they can explain what they think you are saying (or vise versa), these are all great ways to ensure that there is complete understanding.  Mind you, you still have to learn to ask the right questions and to ask at the appropriate time in a conversation but these comes with practice and even a beginner with this will gain from it in communicating better.

Keep an Open Mind

Questions help communication because they keep you open minded since you use them to learn more about others’ ideas and comments, instead of presenting your own in place of them.  Using questions is very effective even if you don’t agree with that person so that you are looking to see things from their perspective and consider more than your initial reaction.  When you are asking questions, you come across that you are interested in learning about the other person and not just yourself.  Its an easy way to hold back your own advise and comments in a conversation if you first look at asking more questions with an open mind about what is really being communicated.

Lead The Other Person

While its important to keep an open mind, there are times when you want to really get your own point or argument across in a conversation.  This can be done as well with questioning.  If you use your questions with a word or focus on a particular outcome, you can often lead the other party your way with them still feeling like it was their decision to do so.  This is obviously a powerful communication tool for a leader as there are times you already have a certain direction you would like a conversation to go, but don’t want to tell or force the other person to go your way.  If you use questions that lead them to what you want, you can communicate your direction and keep the other person highly engaged and interested.  Sometimes a simple phrased question like, "Are you planning on writing a brief report then on that issue and getting everyone involved?" is a lot more powerful than, "What are you going to do next?".

So, you obviously have to balance this with keeping an open mind and using open ended questions when appropriate but you can definitely control how your questions impact a conversation just by the way you ask them.

Reflect

A final area I find critical in regards to questions in communication is actually reflecting on the questions from others.  You should never interrupt or even respond too quickly to a question.  Take an extra moment and reflect on that question.  What are they really asking?  Why are they asking it?  What are they likely wanting from you in response?  All these can be part of a momentary reflection in your mind before actually responding.  Take a minute, show some facial expression to indicate that you are thinking on their question and then respond after reflecting on it.  This helps to build rapport with others as they take you seriously and know then that you do in fact care about your response and that you put at least a moment of thought into it, and not just a reactive or instinctive answer.  Watch for others reflecting on your questions and see what impact that has on you?  You can do the same with your responses, it just takes a bit of reflection time.

What other communication techniques do questions give you?



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