Carrying on our focus on Appreciative Inquiry and the use of good questions, here we will consign a few more well-intentioned but counter-productive questions to the bin marked ‘never to be asked’.

Bad question #3: Have you thought of doing it this way?

This sounds like a helpful intervention, but no matter how benign the motivation, it is not, as it tends to impose the your view on others. It is even worse when asked after the event, when it conveys the message ‘you should have done it my way’.

This question is a form of control by stealth; if you have hired the right people you should not need to control how they do their work. That is best left to them to work out themselves, but you can assist this process by asking: ‘What ways forward do you think might work here? How do think it should be tackled?’

Bad question #4: Has this not already been tried?

You’re entitled to raise questions about suggested strategies, but tone matters. Sounding condescending and defeatist is not going to unlock people’s potential. Paths that have been trodden before without yielding results may have failed not due to inherent flaws, but because they were badly timed or poorly executed. A better question would be: ‘If we did this now, what would be different? Would that be enough to change the results?’

Bad question #5: What is our iPad?

You can almost smell the panic in this question, which is usually asked when a competitor has launched an exciting new product. It inevitably comes across as: ‘Why have you not created a hot new product? Get your fingers out!’

Implicitly, it leads people into being followers, and thinking that their job is to imitate what rivals are doing as fast as possible. Better question: ‘What need is our competitor’s product satisfying? How can we do an even better job in meeting our customers’ needs?’

When trying to use good questions asking ourselves “Would I like to answer this?” is a useful rule of thumb guide to how others may perceive our well-intentioned interventions.

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