Why “Do you have any questions?” is a Conversation Killer

When you are explaining something to someone (or a group of people) do you ever ask “Do you have any questions?” I recently learned that this is a good way to end that topic and move on to the next. If you want to increase the chances of stirring people’s thoughts that lead to more questions it’s better to ask “What other questions do you have?”

This is what my friend Jean Tabaka, a world renown collaboration thinker, taught me the other day. She has written a book on the topic (Collaboration Explained), is hired to facilitate meetings around the world, and is primary on the agile and collaboration speaking tour.

Jean is attending a workshop series on Satir systems that I am facilitating. We were nearing the end of a good teaching piece on using a contrary suggestion in order to elecit thought from someone who is stuck. Steven Young, the primary facilitator, asked “Are there any questions?”

Jean then pointed out the topic of this post – if you actually want a response, ask a more open-ended question. If you ask a question that can be answered by saying “no”, there is a greather chance that is what will happen. People will simply say “no, I don’t have any questions”, or think “no” and say nothing.

If you ask “What other questions do you have?”, you can’t just say “no”, or even “yes”. It invites thought and reflection, and is more likely to result in questions being asked. It gives less room for the participant(s) to say “no” and shut down.

I have extended this and altered one of my signature ending lines of emails to clients. Instead of saying “Let me know if you have any questions”, I now say “Let me know what questions you have”.

Once you’ve thought about this, let me know what questions you have about it.

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