Paraphrasing Questions for Effective Management


Understand this. The quality of information you receive will be directly related to the quality of the questions you ask. Sloppy, imprecise questions attract sloppy, imprecise answers. Some managers think that because they’re managers, staff will tell them exactly what they need to know. Sadly, it just isn’t so.

The Information Killer: “Why?”

“Why” attracts opinions and opinion based explanations. “Why?” doesn’t attract facts. “Why” is something you should deduce from the information you receive. You can then check your deduction with others.

Ask questions starting with “What, how, who. which, when.” You’ll learn more by asking “What happened to him?” rather than “Why is he lying on the floor in a pool of blood?”

Don’t Accept What You’re Told

Your staff are not necessarily as articulate as you’d like. Sometimes they don’t express themselves clearly. Sometimes they’re trying to protect themselves or others. Sometimes they just don’t have an answer but try to sound as if they do.

Learn to paraphrase

Repeat back to them in your words what you think they said and meant. Say “Are you saying that…?” “Do you mean that…?”

Avoid including your opinion in the question.

“Do you think the rain was responsible?” is virtually saying what you already think. It’s better to ask, “What do you think caused the crash?”

Learn The Value Of Silence

Ask and wait. The longer the silence the more likely you are to get an answer. Once you’ve asked your question, shut up and wait for an answer. Avoid prompting. If you prompt, “Is it because…?” you’re telling staff the answer you’re expecting. That’s what they’ll tell you. Be patient in the pursuit of reliable information.


Questions and answers are part of the fabric of the modern workplace. Staff often have information to help managers make important decisions. Phrase your questions properly. Be patient in waiting for answers. And avoid the killer “why?”.

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