The Power of the Question Mark

How asking questions can become your super-power.

We can tell people what to do. We can tell a co-worker that we disagree with their opinion. We can push a team to change the direction of their project. We can do all of this, and it can work just fine. Inspirational leaders don’t need “tricks” to get people to do things for them, they just need to make the request and others will oblige – and they may even be happy to do it. (Actually, one could argue that a great leader often doesn’t even have to make a request, but that’s a subject for another article).


That being said, not all of us are in a position to just tell others what to do. Maybe we need something from a peer or from a manager, and we don’t feel as comfortable making those requests. Maybe we have an idea or opinion but we’re hesitant to submit it out of fear of being wrong or the idea being shot down.


Enter the question. The super-power that all of us can use to smooth our way through these tricky situations – and many more.


Asking questions is:


  • A relationship management tool: You can provide a correction or alternate suggestion by asking “I’m not sure if maybe you meant to say X when you said Y?”


  • A team and project management tool: Attempt to push a project in a different direction by asking “What other methods do you think we might employ to get the answer we’re looking for?” or “Can you think of steps we can take that might get us there even more efficiently?”


  • A coaching tool: You can help someone take control of a situation in which they are feeling powerless by asking “What do you think is in your power to do that can help this situation?” This is particularly helpful in situations where someone is caught up in a “drama triangle” and feeling like a victim.


  • A way to overcome the “imposter syndrome”: Asking questions allows you to delay answering a key question at hand while ensuring you have the information needed to more deeply respond later. Bonus: Asking probing, astute questions conveys to others that you are thinking about the details, making connections, and have deeper knowledge of the subject matter (even if you think you don’t!).


The importance of tone: The tone in which the question is asked is crucial. Questions asked in an accusatory or sarcastic manner can come across as a form of passive aggression, which undermines everything you are trying to do by asking questions in the first place.


The next time you are thinking of providing a correction or suggestion, and particularly if you are worried about a negative response, try turning it into a question and you may be rewarded by a more positive interaction.


Email me to find out how PEAR can help your company improve morale and build productive relationships based on respect!



David Freedman, SHRM-SCP – VP, Organizational Development, PEAR Core Solutions, Inc. –