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Questions to Avoid (and What to Ask Instead) to Be a Better Great Game™ Leader

Jul 29, 2019 by Chris Hutchinson 0 Comments

Questions to avoid to be a better leader

You’ve likely experienced people who occupy leadership positions and people who are leaders. There’s quite a difference.

People who only occupy the position use power to get what they think is needed. Their use of questions often includes blame or demands control. Perhaps you’ve heard this one: “Don’t you agree, or is there something you didn’t understand?”

People who are true leaders do the opposite. They ask questions to get people thinking about and owning the results of their work and the collective results of the company.

Here are three tips around asking questions you can start using today to improve engagement and results in your Game:

1. Avoid "Why" Questions to Stay Away From the Blame Game

While the "5 Whys" method (asking Why five times to get to the root cause of a problem) can work if you have a strong relationship with a confident employee, most people hear Why as a statement of blame they need to defend themselves from. How can you explore what’s happening without triggering concern and shame?

2. Use Open-Ended Questions—What, How, and How Much?

Instead of those Why questions, use open-ended questions beginning with How, How Much, and What. This will promote increased engagement and less defensive reaction. For example, instead of “Why are turns down?” try “What do you think is causing the drop in turns?” or “What could be happening here?” You’ll get the answers you need and keep people contributing with less fear.

3. Avoid Questions That Can Be Answered By a Yes or No

When you fall into this common practice, a closed question can cause two problems:

  • You’re doing all the thinking, which doesn’t leave much for the other person.

I know, you’re trying to be helpful and save time, but if you want people to understand more and be confident doing in making decisions themselves, validating your thinking through yes/no questions doesn’t help. 

Instead of “Don’t you think the problem is that we aren’t measuring what matters?” consider “How much do you think we’re measuring what matters?” or “How effective are we being here?”
  • People will give you the answer that’s least troublesome to both of you.

If you ask me, “Do you understand that number?”, I’m going to think to myself: Well, I should understand I’ll say "Yes" and figure it out later. To help both parties communicate more effectively, instead try “How much do you understand this number?” or “What do you understand about this number, and what’s not as clear?”

For improved understanding for you and your employees, stop the yes/no questions and use open-ended questions starting with what, how, or how much.

3. Add to Their Thinking Instead of Simply Supplying Your Own

You have been doing this work for a while—you have scars to prove it and you have great ideas! Yet people support what they help create. How can you get your employees to get the benefit of your thinking without them feeling you’re telling them what to do?

Instead of “Why don’t you try a survey?” try “In the past, we’ve used a survey, phone calls, and direct visits. Which do you think could work here, or is there something else you think would work?” Hint: with this method, be sure you are good with all the choices you offer so it doesn’t matter which one they pick!

For stronger ownership of solutions from employees, try gathering their thoughts on options in a multiple-choice question along with an “or something else” option.


To learn more about improving leadership as you implement The Game, join Chris Hutchinson at the 27th Annual Gathering of Games in his pre-conference session, "Winning Leadership: Being the Leader Your Team Wants to Follow."

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Topics: Employee Engagement, Leadership, The Annual Gathering of Games, Gathering 2019 Speaker

Chris Hutchinson
Written by Chris Hutchinson

Since 2002, hundreds of leaders have trusted Chris Hutchinson and Trebuchet Group to help their companies and teams get lasting results. Chris brings together real-world experience to support leaders who feel the weight of their company on their shoulders, and are frustrated by teams not performing as they could. Chris wrote Ripple: A Field Manual for Leadership that Works in 2015 to help leaders increase their impact.

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About The Great Game of Business

Our approach to running a company was developed to help close one of the biggest gaps in business: the gap between managers and employees. We call our open-book approach The Great Game of Business. What lies at the heart of The Game is a very simple proposition: The best, most efficient, most profitable way to operate a business is to give everybody in the company a voice in saying how the company is run and a stake in the outcome. Let us teach you how to develop a culture of ownership, where employees think, act and feel like owners.