“The challenges we face are not in isolation and can be tackled with a collective response and positive listening approach”

Participant in a Sign up to Safety & King’s Fund event that explored working safely through conversations

Asking questions

What we ask, and the way in which we ask, together with the way in which we respond, is ultimately the basis of building the trusting relationships that are so essential for working safely.

Asking questions that grow the conversation, discover more about the story, rather than close it down, is really important.

Most of the time you need to keep the questions as ‘open’ questions, which means that they can’t be answered with a yes or no – unless you want a specific yes or no answer.

After asking clarifying questions you can then move on to probing questions. You can see some examples here…

Clarifying questions

Clarifying questions will help seek further factual information. These clarify the issue or problem or dilemma and provide the nuts and bolts so that people can then ask good probing questions. Examples of clarifying questions include:

  • Is this what you said…?
  • Did I hear you say…?
  • Did I understand you when you said…?
  • What did you use to…?
  • What’s another way you might…?
  • Did I hear you correctly when you said…?
  • Did I paraphrase what you said correctly?
  • What happened next?
Probing questions

Probing questions will help those speaking to think more deeply about the issue at hand.  Examples of probing questions include:

  • Why do you think this is the case?
  • What do you think would happen if…?
  • What sort of impact do you think…?
  • How did you decide…?
  • How did you determine…?
  • How did you conclude…?
  • What is the connection between… and…?
  • What if the opposite were true? Then what?
  • What did you notice when…?
  • What happens normally?
  • How can you use that to do something differently?
  • What were others doing and saying?
  • What do you think was really going on?
  • How did you feel when….?
  • How have you adjusted your plans to work better in the situation you find yourself in
  • How do you determine which way to proceed?
  • What do you do if something unexpected happens? e.g. an interruption, a new urgent task, a change of conditions, a change of resource
  • How stable are the working conditions?
  • How predictable is your work?
  • What do you do in case of time pressures?
  • What do you do if information is missing?
  • What do you do if you can’t get hold of certain people?
  • What would it take to create change on this issue?
  • What’s possible here and who cares about it?
  • If our success was completely guaranteed, what bold steps might we choose?
  • What challenges might come our way and how might we overcome them?
  • What is the next level of thinking that we need to address?
  • What is missing from what we know?
  • If there is one thing that has not yet been said, but is needed in order to reach a deeper level of understanding, what would that be?

What we ask and the way in which we ask questions

Together with the way in which we respond is ultimately the basis of building trusting relationships.

Asking questions that grow the conversation, discover more about the story, rather than close it down, is really important.

Most of the time you need to keep the questions as ‘open’ questions, which means that they can’t be answered with a yes or no – unless you want a specific yes or no answer.

Start by asking clarifying questions and then move on to probing questions.

Clarifying questions

Clarifying questions will help seek further factual information. These clarify the issue or problem or dilemma and provide the nuts and bolts so that people can then ask good probing questions. Examples of clarifying questions include:

  • Is this what you said…?
  • Did I hear you say…?
  • Did I understand you when you said…?
  • What did you use to…?
  • What’s another way you might…?
  • Did I hear you correctly when you said…?
  • Did I paraphrase what you said correctly?
  • What happened next?
Probing questions

Probing questions will help those speaking to think more deeply about the issue at hand.  Examples of probing questions include:

  • Why do you think this is the case?
  • What do you think would happen if…?
  • What sort of impact do you think…?
  • How did you decide…?
  • How did you determine…?
  • How did you conclude…?
  • What is the connection between… and…?
  • What if the opposite were true? Then what?
  • What did you notice when…?
  • What happens normally?
  • How can you use that to do something differently?
  • What were others doing and saying?
  • What do you think was really going on?
  • How did you feel when….?
  • How have you adjusted your plans to work better in the situation you find yourself in
  • How do you determine which way to proceed?
  • What do you do if something unexpected happens? e.g. an interruption, a new urgent task, a change of conditions, a change of resource
  • How stable are the working conditions?
  • How predictable is your work?
  • What do you do in case of time pressures?
  • What do you do if information is missing?
  • What do you do if you can’t get hold of certain people?
  • What would it take to create change on this issue?
  • What’s possible here and who cares about it?
  • If our success was completely guaranteed, what bold steps might we choose?
  • What challenges might come our way and how might we overcome them?
  • What is the next level of thinking that we need to address?
  • What is missing from what we know?
  • If there is one thing that has not yet been said, but is needed in order to reach a deeper level of understanding, what would that be?