Staff Communications: 10 Questions You Must Always Ask Employees


Effective staff communications are based on the quality of the questions you ask: not the answers you get. You'll only get useful answers when you ask good questions. Here are some questions that you should always ask and continue to ask.

1. What do you think we should do?

When an employee seeks your advice or counsel, seek their opinion. They may well know what to do and simply be seeking reinforcement. They may have information that you need. You want them to simply avoid "dumping" their problems in your lap. They may have a brilliant idea that you desperately need but won't discover unless you ask. Asking also reinforces your faith in their judgement.

2. What makes you say that?

You want to find out what the employee thinks. But you also want to know what's made them form their opinion. Their insights may be based on evaluations that may be unknown to you.

3. Are you saying that... ?

Paraphrasing is one of the key techniques for effective communication. You should use it all the time because what employees mean and what they say may not be the same. Some employees simply aren't good at expressing their thoughts in words. Paraphrasing is the answer. You repeat in your own words what you think the speaker means. It's a very effective clarification technique.

4. What are you trying to achieve?

The importance of performance goals and performance standards can't be overstated. Constantly asking this question is a good method of ensuring that employees realize that a results focus is essential.

5. How would that affect the business?

The purpose of all suggestions is to build a better business. An employee may have what seems to be a truly sensational idea. It's most important that they relate their ideas to their effect on business success. They should keep the "business perspective" in sight at all times.

6. How would customers be affected?

Pleasing and satisfying customers is at the heart of a sustainable business. Keep customers in mind in all actions. This question helps employees do that.

7. If we do what you suggest what are the likely consequences?

Some idea or suggestion may seem overwhelmingly attractive. As such the possible consequences may be ignored. You'll discover the negative effects when it's too late to retrieve the situation. Always discuss consequences.

8. What do you want me to do?

Always ask this question. The employee may not want you to so anything. They may simply be seeking permission to follow a particular course of action. Alternatively they may need your help in a variety of ways. You won't know unless you ask.

9. How long has this been going on?

This is the title of a George and Ira Gershwin classic song. It's also information you, as manager, need. Is the idea or suggestion new? Is it designed to avoid a new problem or finally resolve an old "burr under the saddle". You need to know so that you can provide your best advice and decide how much attention the issue deserves.

10. When will you get back to me?

This is the question you're most likely to forget to ask. You have a very fruitful discussion with an individual or team. But a deadline for further action or research is essential for satisfactory resolution. Always ask. And make a note to follow up before the deadline.

No "Whys"

You may have already noticed that not one of my questions started with the word "Why?" This is deliberate. I know that you've almost certainly been told how important it is. And it is important to know why. But asking questions starting with "Why?" doesn't necessarily get you the information you want. More often than not, asking "Why?" simply elicits opinions and judgements.

Use "Whats?" and "Hows?"

Questions starting with "What" and "How" elicit information that enables you to deduce reasons without the reasons being muddled by bias and opinion. You find out "what happened" by asking that exactly. You'll discover why something happened only after discovering "What".

"Why" isn't a good starting point for fact.

The Overall Purpose

Asking these questions leads to

    Clearer and more specific communication
    Employees understanding what you expect from them
    Not accepting employee frustrations as your own
    Employees thinking through issues before they present them to you
    Employees realizing that you want their recommendations from them because that's their job as you see it
    The opportunity to discuss issues collaboratively so that the input of both employee and manager is highly valued
    You having more time to manage because employees are doing their jobs in full
    Development of employees who are confident that you value their input and expect them to contribute effectively to business success.

A Final Tip

Always confirm. After any discussion with employees always confirm the course of action that's been decided. Be as specific as possible. No "We'll look ats". Say, "I'll write to... Jack will... Mary will... And the group will review the situation by the end of next week. We'll meet again next Monday at 10.00 am here to check progress."


Keep asking the "right" questions. Ensure that your staff know that you'll continue to ask. When that happens the quality of your staff communications will improve beyond belief.

Article Source: Leon Noone

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