Had a long talk with a manager client today about asking good questions. He sincerely wanted to have helpful one-on-one discussions with his employees, but he said, “I ask too many ‘yes/no’ questions. When they give me one-word answers, I get stuck.” His excellent question was, “How do I transform my questions to get more response?’
He and I had talked about the fantabulous “blinking word technique,” that we found can be used in so many situations. [Originally from the book, "Love 'em or Lose 'em by Beverly Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Evans. Andy Robinson of CareerRealism does a great job of giving another example here.]
The “blinking word technique” is fairly straight-forward. I’m just going to launch into an example. If you need more, follow the references above.
So, my client and I quickly went through this scenario He’s trying to get to know an employee better in a one-on-one discussion.
Boss: “How are you liking your assignment?”
‘EE: “It’s good.” (pretend this word is blinking)
Boss: “What parts do you find good?”
‘EE: “Well, I like the routine.” (blinking)
Boss: “When you say ‘routine,’ can you give me some examples?”
‘EE: “Well, I like it that I know what to expect from day to day. I pretty much know what I’m going to do throughout the day. It has a flow. I don’t like to be surprised, so this job suits me.”
Now you’ve learned something helpful. If you thought this employee needed more challenge or variety, you might want to think again, or think about how you would introduce that, at a minimum.
And I also want to make clear, even well-meaning and cooperative employees can be at a loss for words under these circumstances. Make it easy for them. Keep at it until you find a question they can answer meaningfully.