Categories: Career Development, Collaboration, Communication, Continuous Learning, Human Aspects of PM, Leadership, Mentoring, SelfLeadership, Sharing Knowledge, Talent Management
By Yasmina Khelifi, PMI-ACP, PMI-PBA, PMP
Questions can help move your project forward and solve issues. Sometimes, questions allow you to discover common ground or interest that will strengthen work relationships. But we need to be mindful with them.
I’ve recently thought about some of my experiences as a project manager. I’ve contributed to different teams, and I’ve led other teams. In both instances, I have the same doubt: Do I ask too many questions of them? I want to share some things I’ve learned about this over the years. If you’ve ever faced the same concern, keep these tips in mind.
1. Explain what motivates you to ask questions. You need to understand what motivates you to ask questions. Is it out of curiosity? Is it a way to build rapport with your teams? Is it because you anticipate questions other stakeholders will ask you? Is it part of your routine to check in with the team? Is it to solve a problem?
- If you are intellectually curious about their work, clearly state that. Then you can decide if you need training that can bring you more answers.
- If you want to build rapport, some team members expect you to ask questions not only about work, but also about family and important personal events (birthdays, weddings, etc.). For some colleagues, it is essential to know people personally to work with them—but others want to refrain from talking about these things.
- If it is your routine to check in, discuss that with the team.
- If you want to solve a problem, ask questions until you get to the root of the issue.
- Questioning is also a way to help people. Perhaps a colleague cannot verbalize issues that he or she faced, and by asking questions, you may understand that they need help.
Each of these reasons is valid, but you need to explain it to the team.
2. Keep the answers. In the rush, you may ask a question and get the needed answer—and then not document it. Then, one week later, you ask the same question. That can be interpreted as a lack of interest. If you have the answers, document them.
In uncertain environments, the same question can result in a different answer because some elements have changed. So you can say something like this: “I remember you told me that feature was going to be delivered Week X. Is that still the case?” You will show that you listened properly to the answer. If you don’t remember it, be honest about that.
And even if you explain your reasons for asking questions to your team members, don’t expect everyone to react similarly.
3. Observe behaviors and tailor your reaction. There are many reasons you might face difficulty with a line of questioning:
- Some people will be reluctant to answer some questions if they sense you want to micromanage them or control their actions.
- They may think it is a waste of time because the questions are outside your remit.
- Others may think you are intrusive and wonder why you need to know these answers.
- Some will interpret it as a lack of trust. It will also depend on whether you ask only some people rather than others.
On the other spectrum, some team members will view it as a lack of interest if you don’t ask them questions about their work. Don’t neglect the intercultural aspect, and the power dynamic you are in.
Responses will also depend on the number of questions you ask. Do you ask open or closed-ended questions? If each meeting comes across like a police interrogation, it will be unpleasant for team members.
And if you ask questions, do you allow people to ask them in return? You should allow some time for this, as they may be curious about what you’re doing. I once contributed to a project where I had many questions. I would have loved to ask the project manager, but I didn’t dare. To help make them feel more at ease, you can end your questions with an invitation: “Do you have any questions you’d like to ask me?”
And be careful that no question you ask comes across as hurtful. Even if a question is asked with good intent, it can still come across the wrong way (“That was with good intent” isn’t an excuse). Be careful with your words and tone.
What kind of experiences have you had with questions (on both sides)?