Ask the Wrong Question, get the Wrong Answer

November 12, 2015


The other day, Joe came to winterize our outdoor pipes. “Do I need to switch off the taps inside my house for you to do that?”, I asked him. “No”, he said.

Great, I thought, as I now assumed that I don’t need to switch off the outside tap inside my house for the winter.

However, something made me double check my thought process, so I called his office and asked if I need to switch off the tap inside my house for the winter. The lady’s answer was yes, of course I must switch off my tap. I asked the right question and got the right answer.

For a moment, I was irritated. Why did Joe say that I could leave my tap on inside my house, when in fact it must be off? However, I quickly realized that what happened was that I asked Joe the wrong question.

I asked him if I needed to switch off the tap for him to do his job – not if they need to be off for the winter. I then drew a conclusion that his one answer applied to my next question. He did nothing wrong. He could’ve gone the extra mile and said to me, “No, you don’t need to switch them off now, but make sure you do for the winter”. He probably didn’t say that, because he assumed I knew these things, given I live in Canada!

Asking the right question is critical to success – and part of communicating effectively. It will reduce your frustration, improve productivity and help you build strong relationships with your customers, co-workers, suppliers and more.

Tips for better questions

Here are some tips to help you ask better questions, so that you get better answers:

  1. Consider the answer first, before asking the question. That will focus your question.
  2. Decide what you’re going to do with the information – i.e. why do you need it and what are you going to do with it.
  3. Think about the person you’re questioning – what is their position in the company, their level of expertise, etc. – i.e. are they the right person to answer your question.
  4. What is the context of your question – does it relate to a job they’re currently doing or is it random? If it’s random, give background information to your question and set both of you up for success.
  5. If you don’t get the right answer, re-think the question and the person you’re asking the question to. Chances are you’re asking the right question to the wrong person – or asking the wrong question to the right person.
  6. Try and be as specific as possible – don’t assume they’ll know what you’re talking about.
  7. Timing is important. Sense if someone is in a rush or not. If they are, suggest an alternative time to connect with them.

Asking questions is a powerful tool that helps establish trust and build a solid foundation in a relationship – it shows interest and is the best form of learning.

Effective listening goes with questioning. So make sure you listen to the answer and if you’re unsure, clarify the muddy parts of the conversation.

A big part of my job is asking the right questions – and then listening to what my client says. Their answer will provide me with the right information to coach them effectively. Now I need to apply this technique to all aspects of my life – including my interactions with Joe!

May the month ahead bring you the right answers to your questions – and help you communicate more effectively and efficiently.


Debbi Arnold

Debbi Arnold has been coaching small business owners for over a decade. With a strong marketing and business background, she believes in keeping things simple and relevant to your customer, business and product. Her coaching style is honest, direct and in sync with your values, personality and goals. At DA Coaching & Consulting, you and Debbi build a plan together, so that you are motivated and inspired to achieve your goals.