People Skills Killer: Questions That Don’t Ask

Leadership, teamwork, sales, and customer relations hinge on great people skills and communication. Most business owners and corporate leaders agree that it is the great questions that develop rapport, build understanding, and unearth solutions and ideas. True — except questions that don’t ask.

Statements that masquerade as questions — that don’t ask but rather tell — are a true people skills killer.

Statements that Masquerade as Questions Don't Ask Image by:Jenn &Tony Bot

Replace Questions That Tell with Those That Ask

  1. Don’t you think … ? At best this question sounds like you don’t want to hear opinions and at worst comes across as passive aggressive or accusatory.  This is a people skills killer.
    The simple change to what do you think increases rapport and understanding.
  2. Why don’t you …? Generally what follows is a statement of what you want the other person to do.  It also puts the other person on the defensive.  This is a people skills killer.
    People will respect you more when you state your ideas as a suggestion.  “Here’s one idea … what do you think?”
  3. Wouldn’t it be better …? This question is actually a statement “I think it would be better …” posed as a question.  Although not as damaging as don’t you think, it still risks insulting the other person.  A people skills killer.
    Better to state your opinion and ask for opinions or combine the two with What if …? The latter doesn’t insult and invites other ideas.
  4. Could you help me? Although it sounds harmless, it shrinks away from the true question “Will you help me? Show others you honor their choices by affording a true option to say yes/no.

Statements that masquerade as questions are people skills killers. They confuse, accuse, manipulate, and sometimes insult.

True questions honor others — even in disagreement. They communicate respect, openness, and a commitment to collaboration. Leadership, teamwork, sales, and customer relations gather momentum and dimension with true questions.

I think it’s well worth it. What do you think?

From professional experience to your success,
Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach™

©2011 Kate Nasser, CAS, Inc. Somerville, NJ. If you want to re-post or republish the content of this post, please first email for terms of use. Thank you for respecting intellectual capital.

Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach™, delivers coaching, consulting, training, and keynotes on leading change, customer service, customer experience, and teamwork. She turns interaction obstacles into business success. See this site for workshop outlines, keynote footage, and customer results.

12 Responses to “People Skills Killer: Questions That Don’t Ask”

  1. Hi Kate,

    Wow: I hadn’t thought of this. Would you believe, Sometimes I just say, “Or …” like Monica Gellar from Friends. These are great tips.


    • Kate Nasser says:

      Glad you liked the tips Tristan. We all fall into these little traps and yet when we retrain ourselves to use the true question or statement, it brings outstanding results.
      Thanks as always for contributing and sharing your insight. “Would you believe …” — nice add!

  2. Melissa Kovacevic says:

    Great idea, Kate! Thanks for sharing these valuable question tips.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      You are welcome Melissa — and many thanks for stopping by my blog. I appreciate it and hope you will share your insight on any post of interest.
      Best wishes,

  3. Gina says:

    Completely agree- Respect really is the key. When you truly respect someone, it will come out in how you interact with them. One can tell a lot about how another truly feels about them by how they are treated, how they are spoken to & how that other person makes them feel. Backhanded complements, a jabbing tease in the guise of “lightening the mood” or “having fun” really speaks to how genuine a person is when dealing with others.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Thx for expanding this discussion. Yes – you can tell a great deal about someone by how they treat others! And teasing is something you must be careful of doing — so easy to misinterpret.

  4. Denise Green says:

    I concur! I find that so many leaders begin questions with ‘Why’. They think they are asking a great open-ended question when really that word puts most people on the defensive. Research has shown that ‘why’ triggers a threat response in the brain, particularly when asked by a supervisor. Our brain thinks we’re being quizzed and must have a correct answer…or else. I try to get leaders to begin questions with ‘What’ and ‘How’ (as in ‘How can you tell?’ or ‘What leads you to that conclusion’ or my favorite, What else?).Also, I think you can get away with a poorly phrased question if your tone and intention are genuinely curious. Thanks Kate!

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Oh so true Denise. Even positive “why” statements can be troublesome — it depends on what follows. Analytic personality types feel comfortable asking and answering that while others frizzle.

      Thanks for contributing to this post. I appreciate your visit and perspective.

      Best wishes,

  5. Jim Morgan says:

    Language is such an easy wall to hide behind, readily available and often impenetrable.

  6. Al Smith says:

    Thanks Kate. This is really good. If we want to communicate by connecting, we have to ask great questions and LISTEN to the answers. I always want to focus on the listening part, but like you said, the way we ask the questions is SO important. Thanks for the reminder.

    When we ask the “What do you think ?” questions, we are telling the person we VALUE them and their response. It shows we CARE ! When they feel like their opinion MATTERS, it really does open up the dialogue for good, open and TRUTHFUL feedback.

    Thanks again. Great stuff.


  7. David says:

    Thank you Kate! Straightforward and very refreshing 🙂

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