Questioning and Asking Questions – what is the difference?

A speaker finishes a great speech – at least, HE thinks it is great! He then asks, “Any questions?” What does he expect? If I were him, I would expect the audience to demonstrate a level of understanding of what the speech was all about and ask meaningful questions – clarifying the ground covered and even extending from there.

These are situations where one actually wants to be questioned to get a sense a satisfaction that the effort (the speech, in this case) has been worthwhile. But there are other situations where being questioned has a very negative connotation. It implies questioning the ability of the person being questioned or the work that he has done.

The important thing is that the intent of questioning should be to seek understanding rather than putting down someone. Hence, even the tone of questioning is very important. Consider the difference between, “Why did you do THAT?” and “What are your reasons for doing THAT?”

The tone of the former question is judgmental while the same question asked differently demonstrates an openness and a neutral tone. The tone is important because it can either put people off & make them defensive or it can make them relaxed and explain their rationale for an idea or a course of action.

From the above, it follows that there is a big difference between “questioning” and “asking questions”.


In the work context, a manager who adopts an approach of “asking questions” enables an environment where his reportees apply their mind to the situation at hand and exercise their best judgment on the right course of action.

The manager can use questions to expand the reportee’s thinking and make him aware of aspects he may not have thought of (instead of just instructing him what to do).

Hence asking questions contributes to the reportee’s overall development and ability to deal with situations with minimal oversight. Equally important, it enables greater responsibility on the part of the reportee so that the implementation aspects of his suggestions are fully owned by him.

Through this, the manager’s time is also freed up from routine oversight functions to take up important but not urgent tasks.

In a highly dynamic world, the approach of “asking questions” is not just “a nice to have” but an imperative to empower people and ensure that the organization as a whole responds fast to changes in the environment.

“Asking questions” is an essential part of the tool set of a coach who may be the line manager himself. You consciously adopt the approach for improving the “awareness” of the coachee and therefore, open his mind to his perceptions & other possibilities and take “responsibility” for the options for actions that he chooses.

Finally, adopting the approach of “asking questions” needs a complementing skill which is ACTIVE listening. A coach cannot sustain a session of asking questions without actually listening well, understanding and re-phrasing of what the coachee says.

As with most things in life, practice makes perfect – it takes time and experience to hone the approach of asking questions and the skill of active listening. But they can indeed be developed for individual and organizational benefit. The time to start is NOW!

What do you think?

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