Seed World

Reframing Questions For Better Results

How we ask questions matters. 

As leaders, we gather information by asking questions. How we ask questions changes the kind of information we receive. We can also motivate our team through questions. How we ask those questions determines what kind of motivation and how motivated people are likely to become. 

How do these kinds of questions make you feel?

  • “Why didn’t you meet your production goal?”
  • “Why are you late?”  
  • “Why are you having trouble finding new hires?”
  • “Why are we making these changes?”  

Compare those feelings to how these questions make you feel:

  • “What factors kept you from reaching your production goal?” 
  • “What would it take to be on time next time?” 
  • “How have you approached your hiring process?”
  • “Can you tell me about the purpose of these changes?”

These are the same questions but asked in a different frame and bringing about very different responses. 

Dr. David Cooperrider, the creator of Appreciative Inquiry said, “The moment we ask a question, we begin to create change.” In other words, a question causes an emotional response in the receiver and that emotion sets the direction for and guides the scope and tone of their response. Questions set up for either a depreciative that can spiral downward, or an appreciative conversation that can spiral upward. 

Do the questions you ask cause doubt? Do they encourage exploration? Do they motivate others to be honest and vulnerable? Are your questions perceived as investigative or as curious? Will you get the bare minimum information, or will you get a full story with your questions? 

“Why would you do that?” 

I find that ‘why’ happens to be a particularly difficult word to use in questions. While this word has great intentions to get to the backstory and to understand intentions, it is most often interpreted as a skeptical and doubtful word. This is especially true in tense or insecure situations. Removing this word is a great place to start on the journey for reframing. 

You cannot just change the words. You must mean it. Ask yourself:

Are you internally curious or do you want to express skepticism? 

What is your intention with the question? 

What outcome do you really want? 

Do you want to know the problems, or do you want to know the solutions? 

Make sure the question honestly matches your mindset and what you want to know. Explaining the intention of your question often helps set the direction, but not as well as asking a different question.  

What is going on? 

Of course, tone matters too. However, tone applies effectively only in face-to-face interactions. In remote and written work, tone is often not an available option to support the intention of the question. Unfortunately, the reader’s assumptions about the writer’s tone can really undercut a seemingly positive intention. Therefore, we must be straightforward and clear with our questions to get the answer we want. This is a good practice in writing and in person.

Appreciative inquiry is a useful word study. Inquiry means to ask and explore. Appreciative means to respect, to acknowledge, and to increase. Do your questions do that?