Let’s imagine that a problem has cropped up at work and you’re not sure what to do. It would make sense to seek out a knowledgeable coworker and get that person’s advice. But before you do that, here’s something to keep in mind – the way in which you ask for advice can have a huge impact on the type of response that you get.

For example, let’s say that you approached your knowledgeable coworker and said this:

  • You: “The client won’t give me any feedback. So I think I’m going to email his boss and complain. That would certainly get things moving, don’t you think?”
  • Your Coworker: “Yeah, I guess.”

This is a bad way to ask a question. You’re not really asking your coworker to provide input on how to solve the problem. You’re just asking a yes/no question and trying to get your coworker’s blessing for your lousy plan of action.

If you really want to get valuable information, you need to ask great questions. Author Jeff Haden provides the following tips:

  • Don’t ask leading questions – A leading question might be something like, “Don’t you think I’ve waited long enough for a response?” These types of questions are bad because your coworkers will know how you want them to respond, and they may not give you an honest answer.
  • Don’t ask either/or questions – Don’t present your coworkers with two options and ask them which one is better. Maybe both options are bad! Instead, just explain the problem and ask what should be done to fix it.
  • Ask open-ended questions – You should ask the type of question that can’t be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” For example, you might say “What would you do to solve this problem?” When you ask open-ended questions that require a detailed response, you’ll be more likely to learn valuable new information.
  • Be humble – If you’re confused by what your coworker is saying, admit your confusion and ask clarifying questions. Then keep asking questions until you understand what your coworker is suggesting. Don’t try to pretend that you understand something when you don’t.
  • Be quiet and listen – After asking your question, be quiet. Give your coworker some time to think about the problem and generate a solution. And don’t interrupt while your coworker is talking. Let your coworker finish what he or she is saying before you say anything. You’ll learn a lot more by being quiet and listening than you will by continuing to talk.


Haden, J. (2019, April 8). How smart people ask great questions (and get better answers). Inc. Retrieved from: https://www.inc.com/jeff-haden/how-smart-people-ask-great-questions-and-get-great-answers.html?cid=hmside3