During an average workday, I ask a lot of questions. I mean a lot.
I’ll be the first to admit that there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. However, recently I had a somewhat brutal “aha!” moment: I’m really not that great at asking questions.
What do I mean? Here’s what my typical question looks like:
Should I include images in this article? Or, should it just be strictly text?
I know what you’re thinking: What’s so wrong with that? It seems perfectly fine to me.
But, consider this: That’s actually two questions. Wouldn’t my request be far clearer (not to mention more concise) if I just removed the second half of it entirely? Here’s what that prompt would look like if I cut it in half:
Should I include images in this article?
If you’re nodding right now, I can’t blame you. There’s no denying it—that’s a far more direct inquiry.
Yet, this strategy is underutilized. Many of us still fall into the trap of prompting people with a series of similar or repetitive requests that ultimately all lead to the same answer—when we could’ve just asked a single question.
Should I schedule that meeting or should I wait? Should I copy that person on this email or does he not need to be included? Will lunch be provided at that event or should I plan to eat after?
In all of those examples, the “or…” and the question that immediately follows really isn’t necessary.
It’s tempting to think that this multiple choice approach makes it easier for the respondent to reply (not to mention the fact that it cushions your own ego by making it obvious that you already know all of the potential responses). Providing options means that person only needs to choose one—as opposed to coming up with his or her own answer.
However, I’ve found that the opposite is actually true. I receive a much clearer response when I ask a short and direct question—as opposed to relying my previously long-winded approach.
So, the next time you’re asking a question, challenge yourself to determine how you could make it both shorter and more direct. If you’re anything like me, you might find that you could cut your question down by half—or maybe even more. Not to mention, you’ll be far more productive because you’ll get much clearer responses.
Photo of person on laptop courtesy of Westend61/Getty Images.
Kat is a Midwest-based freelance writer, covering topics related to careers, self-development, and the freelance life. In addition to writing for The Muse, she's also the Career Editor for The Everygirl, a columnist for Inc., and a contributor all over the web. When she manages to escape from behind her computer screen, she's usually babying her rescued terrier mutt or continuing her search for the perfect taco. Say hi on Twitter @kat_boogaard or check out her website.More from this Author