We ask many questions each day, particularly when interviewing entrepreneurs and discussing companies. There’s a skill to asking the right kinds of questions.

Judith Ross, blogger at Harvard Business Publishing has written an overview of how to ask more effective questions:

The most effective and empowering questions create value in one or more of the following ways:

  1. They create clarity: “Can you explain more about this situation?”
  2. They construct better working relations: Instead of “Did you make your sales goal?” ask, “How have sales been going?”
  3. They help people think analytically and critically: “What are the consequences of going this route?”
  4. They inspire people to reflect and see things in fresh, unpredictable ways: “Why did this work?”
  5. They encourage breakthrough thinking: “Can that be done in any other way?”
  6. They challenge assumptions: “What do you think you will lose if you start sharing responsibility for the implementation process?”
  7. They create ownership of solutions: “Based on your experience, what do you suggest we do here?”

The blog lays out an admirable set of goals to aim for when asking questions. Much like a persuasive essay, properly constructed questions can form the basis of an argument or description of a position on an issue. Most of these goals focus on framing the question the right way to satisfy a goal.

NB: The comments have great points about cultural sensitivities and differences in norms.