Want a Productive Meeting ? Ask these Productive Questions

Picture this. A team-meeting where just one person is speaking, setting the agenda, explaining the tasks, and the others just nod their way through the meeting, only to realise much later that they aren’t clear about a key concern.

Take this other scenario. Again, a team-meeting, and someone who isn’t in a habit of conducting meetings is doing so now. A barrage of questions would overwhelm this new person, but just the right amount could potentially help them get a cue about how they are doing the job thus helping them ease into the meeting. It can also tell them how effectively have they communicated and what they can keep in mind in future meetings.

Asking questions is almost like an art. When asked at the right time, to the right person, in the right manner can lead to fruitful discussions, integration of unique perspectives leading to innovation, filling gaps and loopholes leading to the outcomes actually desired.

This art is seen in interviews, but it can also be utilised in meetings, brainstorming sessions and important decision-making discussions.

Let us take a look at some strategies to ask better questions so that team-meetings can actually include perspectives of team-members, and brainstorming sessions don’t end up becoming storms to run away from!

The Nuance of ‘Why’:

Contrary to what is obvious, ‘why’ is actually not a question that can lead to many fruitful discussions; at least not always. Have we not had times when a sudden ‘why’ rendered us questioning the whole point of our agenda? It could often shut us down and demoralise.

As Amy Drader writes in a blog for growthpartnersconsulting.com, ‘why’ can actually make the person asked get defensive. It often requires them to look into the past and justify a key decision. Necessary at certain times, at other times, it can drive the discussion away from the solution and more to the problem itself.

So, asking a ‘why’ demands a lot more prudence about how one frames or phrases it.

Open-Ended:

The key then is to ask questions which elicit answers that lead one to think in a direction they might not have. To lead one to offer their perspective. To clarify, to specify. Because let us face it, speakers could forget key details in the rush to get done with the meeting, and thus the onus lies on the others listening to ask the right questions and get all the details clearly laid out.

Open-ended questions, generally but not always begin with a ‘what’, ‘how’ and sometimes ‘who’. Some examples provided by the blog cited above include questions like:

  • How do we move forward?
  • What is the important thing to do here, and what is that can wait for later?
  • What do you think is the best option?
  • What are some things expected from us?
  • What can we expect this to achieve?
  • What are we trying to accomplish here?
  • What seems to be the best practice/alternative/strategy?
  • How has this been done in the past and how can we do it better?
  • Who are the key persons with what sort of roles in this?
  • What impact is this likely make?

And so on.

Note how most of these questions are likely to elicit a discussion, invite some perspectives, clarify a few things and provide the specifics. For the speaker too, it is not a bad idea to ask questions like these to individual members. A question as simple as ‘what do you think about…’ followed by questions on a similar tangent as mentioned above can encourage the listeners put their point forward.

Listening Skills:

However, great questions will not mean anything if we don’t listen to the responses and not help taking the meeting in the right direction. While asking questions should be an important part of any meeting, it should not become a hindrance to the agenda.

Thus, it is important that the questions are asked with an intention to:

  • Get clarity about the agenda
  • To prevent taking unnecessary long detours
  • Avoiding potential loopholes and filling gaps
  • Make sure the speaker isn’t missing out on any key detail

And not with an intention to:

  • Provide opinions that don’t directly concern the agenda
  • Waste time
  • Assert power to fuel in office politics

While open-ended questions work great, there will be times when a simple yes or no shall be enough to provide the necessary clarity. At such times, it is best to let the meeting move forward and not try to come up with further questions just for the sake of coming up questions. The key is to ask questions that facilitate the movement of the meeting.  

The ‘Fun’ Twist: Tackling Some ‘Interesting’ Questions

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In many of our previous posts, we have talked about answering those commonly asked questions well. Questions like “can you walk me through your CV?”, “can you tell me about yourself?”, among others. Answering these generic, formal questions is relatively easy because these are the questions we expect.

But what if we are suddenly asked a question and the answer is expected to be…fun?

In other words, how should questions like the following should be answered?

  • Can you tell me a fun/interesting fact about yourself?
  • What are your other interests?
  • What do you like to do in your spare time?

 

Why Such Questions:

The logic is similar to the one behind “can you tell me about a weakness?”. That is, the interviewers want to take a look beyond the candidate’s interview persona. Such questions give them a sense of what they are like outside the office.

Everyone is formal and serious during the interview, but the world beyond the interview involves undertaking tasks, managing teams, coordinating with colleagues, talking to clients and associates, maintaining interpersonal rapport. A well-rounded  persona, with proportionate amount of seriousness and fun won’t harm, right?

Such questions are thus beneficial for the interviewer to know more about a candidate, and for the interviewee to show a different side of their personality.

 

What Can Such Questions Do:

Such questions asking about interesting aspects of one’s personality give the person getting interviewed opportunities to:

  • Shift the interview from a formal question-and-answer session to a more conversational interaction. We talk about this more later on.
  • Talk about their hobbies (if any, given that these days people don’t have hobbies) and interests
  • Give a sense of what they would be like during out of the office formal events like conferences, dinners, etc,.
  • Talk about themselves as a worker by drawing analogies

 

The Shift:

This is one of the strongest reason to cash in on such questions, when asked.

Answering (and listening to the answers of) generic questions can get boring. It’s not going to be interesting beyond a point. Think of the interview in terms of rhythm. Changing rhythms keep us engaged. Questions which take a look about the beyond the professional life  can change the rhythm of the interview.

There are times of a calm, almost quiet rhythm, when one talks about the more formal issues, like their skills, their work experience, their strengths and weaknesses; there is a little rise in the tempo perhaps when one begins to talk about how one handled a difficult situation. The rhythm will get peppier as one starts talking about the “fun” things. It will keep the interview interesting.

 

 

How Exactly Is One Supposed to Talk about this?:

You have been asked something about yourself. Generic is the last thing you want your answer to be. Relevancy and specificity are some qualities to keep in mind. And the answer should connect to some aspect of your professional life in some way, be it how the interest helped you develop certain soft-skills, or how you got better at a hard-skill.

An example will make it clearer.

A: “I like art.”

B: “I like art. I am not a pro, but I like drawing illustrations based on the everyday things I see around. The last illustration was about the quiet that I noticed in my building when the electricity went off, and how the people came out to talk to each other. It initially started as idle doodling but now I think I have developed an eye for minute details and for making ordinary tasks interesting.”

A is too general. What does it tell about the interviewee besides the fact that they pursue art in their spare time? Not much. On the other hand, B gives a sense of what the interviewee pursues, what their view of the world is like, and what other skills they have developed in the process. Fun fact indeed!

 

Talking about a fun or interesting fact about yourself in a balanced way can give the interviewer a sense of what kind of a worker and a person you are. It can give a glimpse of your soft-skills, good qualities and how you act when faced with challenges.