Magazine excerpt: Communication for diverse teams

Darina Murashev on why (and how) you should ask your team open-ended questions.

As the UK workforce becomes more diverse, an open-minded approach to business leadership is becoming integral to an effective workplace. Interactions with business leaders can make or break an employee’s connection with their supervisor or the organisation at large.

Every interaction with your employees sets the tone for how they will relate to you and their coworkers. One simple way you can set the foundation for a more open, agreeable workplace environment is by asking open-ended questions.

Open-ended questions are designed to encourage full, meaningful answers that can offer critical insight into a recipient’s values, attitudes, perspective and experiences. Here’s how open-ended questions can benefit your team. 

Every interaction with your employees sets the tone for how they will relate to you and their coworkers.

The right questions

Knowing when to use open-ended or closed questions is the mark of a strong leader. Unlike closed questions, open-ended questions allow for elaboration in your recipient’s response.

When to use closed questions

Use closed questions where a short, definitive answer is necessary or efficient, such as when you’re asking for a specific project update, inquiring about the status of a task, or collecting quantitative data.

When to use open-ended questions

Open-ended questions are best for building healthy workplace relationships by establishing communication guidelines and workplace etiquette. You can use open-ended questions to invite open dialogue, gather feedback, facilitate brainstorming sessions, or when you need qualitative data. 

Remember, open-ended questions encourage participants to draw from their own experiences, so it’s unlikely that you’ll receive any statistical or fact-based data; this will be a time for personal input.

When asking open-ended questions, there are a few things to keep in mind.

  • Aim for direct, clear, specific questions. During discussions, try to ask one clear question each time you speak. Avoid doubling up on questions (‘Where are you from? Did you like it there?’) and always clarify questions where you can and if your recipient asks you to.
  • Stick to open language. Questions that begin with how or what are more likely to lead to detailed, diverse answers. You can use these words to help frame your questions, ask follow-up questions, or expand on closed answers.
  • Explore alternatives. While not technically a question, words and phrases like tell me about, explain or describe often yield the same response as an open-ended question.
  • Avoid closed language. Questions that begin with are, do, who, when, where or which often yield one-word, definitive answers. In general, try to avoid asking questions that begin with verbs or that seem interrogative.
  • Use a sequence of questions to drive dialogue. To build relationships, Harvard Business professors Alison Wood Brooks and Leslie K John recommend “opening with less sensitive questions and escalating slowly” to draw information out of the interaction. Try opening the discussion with less sensitive questions or inquiries that don’t feel as intrusive.
  • Reframe closed questions. If you have a question that seems closed, try reframing the question using what or how. For example, instead of asking ‘Are you motivated?’ try asking ‘What about your team motivates you?’

Benefits to asking open-ended questions in a diverse workplace

Asking questions can strengthen communication, resolve complex conflicts and improve the quality of your research. As a leader, open-ended questions should be a central part of your communication plan for fostering ongoing communication within your team and motivating them to meet your shared business goals.

Among other benefits, open-ended questions signal to your employees that you’re interested in their insights and care about their input. Here are four other ways open-ended questions will benefit your diverse team.

To find out the full benefits of open-ended questions, subscribe to TJ magazine here


About the author

Darina Murashev is a freelance writer based in Salt Lake City, US. 


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