Brian Grazer

Questions are a great management tool.

Asking questions elicits information, of course. Asking questions creates the space for people to raise issues they are worried about that a boss, or colleagues, may not know about. Asking questions lets people tell a different story than the one you’re expecting. Most important from my perspective, asking questions means people have to make their case for the way they want a decision to go.

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If you’re the boss and you manage by asking questions, you’re laying the foundation for the culture of your company or your group. You’re letting people know that the boss is willing to listen.

This isn’t about being “warm” or “friendly.” It’s about understanding how complicated the modern business world is, how indispensable diversity of perspective is, and how hard creative work is. Here’s why it’s hard: because often there is no right answer.

That’s why asking questions at work, instead of giving orders, is so valuable. Because most modern problems—lowering someone’s cholesterol, getting passengers onto an airplane efficiently, or searching all of human knowledge—don’t have a right answer. They have all kinds of answers, many of them wonderful. To get at the possibilities, you have to find out what ideas and reactions are in other people’s minds. You have to ask them questions: How do you see this problem? What are we missing? Is there another way of tackling this? How would we solve this if we were the customer?

Questions create both the authority in people to come up with ideas and take action and the responsibility for moving things forward. Questions create the space for all kinds of ideas and the sparks to come up with those ideas. Most important, questions send a very clear message: We’re willing to listen, even to ideas or suggestions or problems we weren’t expecting.

As valuable as questions are when you’re the boss, I think they are just as important in every other direction in the workplace. People should ask their bosses questions. I appreciate it when people ask me the same kind of open-ended questions I so often ask: What are you hoping for? What are you expecting? What’s the most important part of this for you? Those kinds of questions allow a boss to be clear about things that the boss might think are clear, but which often aren’t clear at all.

Indeed, people at all levels should ask each other questions. That helps break down the barriers between job functions and also helps puncture the idea that the job hierarchy determines who can have a good idea.

I like when people at Imagine ask me questions for many reasons, but here’s the simplest and most powerful reason: If they ask the question, then they almost always listen to the answer. People are more likely to consider a piece of advice, or a flat-out instruction, if they’ve asked for it in the first place.

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