Supporting others in asking you questions

A quick framework that might help you to help others ask questions.

It's 2:23pm in the working day, you're wrapping up your presentation and now are opening the floor to questions. You do so perhaps by saying, does anyone have any questions? The room or call responds with silence.

Why does no one ask questions and why does it matter?

There could be a number of reasons that this happens. A couple of options:

  • Everyone got everything.

    • Positive, you did a great job.
  • People are afraid to ask questions

    • Negative, there are questions but people don't have the confidence to raise them.
  • People didn't understand.

    • Negative, they may have questions but can't begin to start.
  • People aren't interested or don't know what to ask

    • Negative, you've brought them together for a reason and so if aren't engaged this could result in worse outcomes.

As you can see there is a higher probability that the reasons for not asking questions trend negative. It is of course entirely possible that your efforts clarified everything, however if that is the case there's still an opportunity to underline that for your audience through questions.

All this matters because this is a shared opportunity to build collective understanding. These are crucial moments to give signals, provide direction and or clarify doubts. Ultimately helping resolve this in others helps ourselves.

How could we help others ask questions?

The problem is that once we know something [] we find it hard to imagine not knowing it. Our knowledge has “cursed” us. We have difficulty sharing it with others, because we can’t readily re-create their state of mind.

Chip and Dan Heath, Harvard Business Review, The curse of knowledge

That is a good quote to bear in mind. For me, it aligns with empathising about user needs. Placing ourselves in our audience's shoes and approaching it from their stand point. Two mechanisms you could try:

  • Create questions in advance and ask audience members to pick one for you to answer

    • This helps dedicate time to questions and removes friction for the audience to formulate something
  • Structure your presentations entirely around questions others might have

    • This helps in building your message and communication against your audience's needs

What questions might we want others to ask?

A lot of this area draws on the work from these powerful questions here.

Example questions Outcomes
What are the motivations behind this? Clearly stating overarching goals and directions
How could I help? Building consensus and gaining support
What needs our immediate attention going forward? Highlighting upcoming changes or challenges
What assumptions do we need to test or challenge? Sharing unknowns or asking for input
What’s been a major learning so far? Informing on new relevant insights

Any draw backs to this?

Receiving questions can pose difficulties in answering, but thinking about questions in advance helps in refining and being clear in your communication. Questions that don't have an immediate answer present an opportunity for new insights.

Pros Cons
Better shared outcomes and understanding Possibly more time consuming to facilitate and respond to.

If you have any tips conducive to helping others ask questions, do let me know.

Posted under / productivityframeworklongformproduct-management

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