Ask Questions

Most of the time, you can take better action if you ask a few questions first and then continuing asking more.

If you’ve been reading my column for a while, you’ll know I end each column with the same line: Until next time—add value and make a difference. Those aren’t just words—I mean them sincerely. Have you been taking them to heart? I hope so. In this column, I’d like to discuss a very specific way to add value.

How? Ask questions. For most of my career, I’ve been one who sees a need and takes action. What I’ve learned, though, is that I sometimes can take better action if I ask a few questions. Or, if I’m already asking questions, I should ask a few more.

For example, a manager comes to you and says, 

“My people are really stressed out—I’d like a stress management course for them.”

What do you do? First, I’ll tell you what you don’t do: You don’t provide the course…at least not without asking questions. Why? Because unless you know the sources of stress, you can’t be sure training will help. And training actually might hurt. Why? I’ll answer that in just a minute. But think about the questions we should be asking:

  • What is your best guess about what’s causing the stress?
  • How long has this been happening?
  • What consequences are you experiencing because people are stressed?

You get the idea. I’m sure you can think of more. Notice these are open-ended questions —“yes” or “no” answers won’t suffice. We want to draw out more information.

There is a reason for choosing this example. A friend of mine, Tor Dahl, has spent more than 40 years researching productivity in the workplace. The White Bear Lake, MN, consultant’s research shows repeatedly that more than 50 percent of the stress managers experience in the workplace is caused by nonproductive behavior. Stress management shouldn’t happen apart from productivity improvement.

Let’s say someone procrastinates on a deadline and then works under tremendous pressure to meet the deadline. The pressure causes tension headaches. Teach stress management to show the person how to prevent the headaches— and you have enabled the person to live with a nonproductive behavior by showing how to eliminate one of the consequences.

In the long run, this doesn’t help either the employee or the company. If you’re familiar with my Performance Solutions Cube, you know I recommend asking questions about five things before trying training as a part of the solution. If you’d like a copy, e-mail me at Adapting the solution to the above example, I might ask questions such as:

  • Are policies or procedures causing stress?
  • What are they and how do they contribute to the stress?
  • Do we have the right people in the right jobs?
  • Do we have task-oriented people doing people-oriented jobs or vice versa?

If we get “yes” answers to these questions, we’re better off first making improvements to our systems, changing policies and procedures, and/or reassigning people. This will reduce stress and improve productivity. We’ll find plenty of challenges with training as part of the solution and gain greater support from management for these programs—if we make a habit of asking questions.

As always, until next time—add value and make a difference. And join me at Training 2016 Conference & Expo in Orlando, where I’ll present a Certificate Program February 13 and 14 on “Moving from Training Provider to Trusted Advisor with Performance Consulting.” To register, visit

Bob Pike, CSP, CPLP FELLOW, CPAE-Speakers Hall of Fame, is known as the “trainer’s trainer.” He is the author of more than 30 books, including “Creative Training Techniques Handbook” and his newest book, “The Master Trainer’s Handbook.” You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook using bobpikectt.