10 Essential Skills for Managers Including HR: Redux


Asking the right questions is a critical skill for managers.
Asking the right questions is a critical skill for managers.

I am on vacation today so I am rerunning a favorite post from 2012. Hope you enjoy reading it again.
I am reading a book by Terry J. Fadem entitled The Art of Asking: Ask Better Questions, Get Better Answers. Although I am just partially through it I have already gleaned some good information. Fadem has written the book for managers, but I think it has great applicability to HR as well. So here are 10 essential skills for managers.
Basic skill set
Fadem’s begins his book making the observation that a very basic, very necessary and often under-trained skill set of management is the ability to ask questions. He feels managers ask questions for a variety of reasons but primarily there are three classes of questions. These include situations where the answer is important; or the question is important or the process of asking the question is important. I am not going to explain the difference in this post, but Fadem is the first one is critical to managers.
For Fadem there is a basic list of questions that all managers should be familiar with and be comfortable in using. I feel this applies equally well to HR professionals, especially in investigations. They sound very similar to the questions that many reporters are trained to ask. They include: What? Where? When? Why? Who? How? How Much? And What if? With this basic list of question a large portion of the appropriate questions to ask can be determined.
Ten basic rules
In asking questions Fadem points out that there are 10 basic rules for asking questions. These include (along with my comments in italics):

  1. Be direct (Get to your point)
  2. Make eye contact if asking the question in person (Nothing is more disconcerting that not being looked at when be addressed if one-on-one)
  3. Use plain language (Try to use language that is easily understood. Clarity adds strength.)
  4. Use simple sentence structure (See above.)
  5. Be brief (You want people to be able to answer your question. The longer the question the shorter the memory.)
  6. Maintain focus on the subject at hand. (Do not introduce subjects that distract from your point)
  7. Make the certain the purpose of the question is clear. (Don’t make people wonder why you are asking that question. You are a manager not Columbo.)
  8. The question must be appropriate for the situation and the person. (Asking the accounting clerk about the social media policy may not be appropriate.)
  9. The manner of asking should reflect the intent. (Ever known anyone that seemed like a Grand Inquisitor regardless of the question they were asking?)
  10. Know what to do with the answer. (This one requires you to have a knowledge base about the line of questioning.)

Of course most of us realize that along with effective questioning the complementary skill that managers need to have is active listening skills. It does no good to be very good at asking questions if you do not listen to the answers.
The Art of Asking was published in 2009 by Pearson Education, Inc. as FT Press. I happen to be reading the Kindle version and find it chock full of good information.

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