This informal CPD article Who knew? The power of questions in virtual meetings was provided by Hannah O’Sullivan of Host Media Consultants. Every now and again we find something that shifts how we perceive the world. It happened for me when reading ‘Appreciative Team Building’ ¹. The subtitle is ‘Positive Questions to Bring Out the Best of Your Team’. It informs much of my coaching work to this day, but it also shed light on why some leaders seem more naturally able to engage and inspire than others: Often, the secret was to ask the right question at the right moment…and really listen to the answer.
As a journalist, I had acquired some aspects of ‘Appreciative Inquiry’ organically; prizing sentences versus one-word answers out of interviewees. Here it was in black and white: ‘The person who asks the question has the power of the change agent’². Clearly, this insight is not confined to virtual communication, but I do believe it is easier to offend, misconstrue, and take offence in online meetings as the virtual space lacks the nuance of face-to-face connection.
By now, you will understand that my tips on running virtual meetings are nothing to do with managing technology: My area of experience lies in communication for influence; Thinking about one’s audience and how one should behave to leave them convinced, inspired, and motivated. I am sharing these insights with you in the context of online meetings, as virtual platforms continue to occupy a place in our working and social lives.
So, back to the value of questions to our influencing potency. I cannot stress enough that a question loses its power without overt listening skills to back it up. With a background in journalism, much of Host’s media training, crisis management and presentation skills training is built on effective questioning skills.
Questions take many forms and are useful to our personal effectiveness in two ways: Firstly, because of the effect of the question on our audience, and secondly because what our questions reveal about our perspective.
Back to ‘Appreciative Inquiry’ which is based on the premise that human beings move in the direction of what we ask about. AI deliberately asks positive questions to ignite constructive dialogue and inspire action. It is a powerful tool in the kitbag of any effective leader. An example is: ‘What do you feel are the most promising areas for us to work together?’
Questions help us avoid making assumptions and they can showcase our ability to empathise with other perspectives. Questions also help us to remove ambiguity, which is crucial to online communication.
I advise clients to ask a specific question in the invitation to get the team engaged beforehand. It will position them for what you want to achieve in the meeting and will frame the conversation at the outset.
Questions make facilitation less confrontational. It is easier to facilitate a senior colleague if you phrase it as a question: ‘Would it be helpful if…?
Here’s a tip from my reporting days: Use open questions to get colleagues to speak in sentences. An example would be: ‘Tell me about…’
A question for clarification can buy time when you are faced with a tricky situation: ‘Do you mean in the context of…?’
Use check questions to keep people with you: ‘Is that clear?’ ‘Shall I move on?’
Closed questions bring a discussion to a decision as they require a yes or no answer: ‘Do you agree?’
Once you have asked a question, be overt with your listening skills: You are still communicating when you are not talking, so maintain eye contact, nod, smile when appropriate, take notes and reference previous points.
If you are facilitating a meeting, ensure you summarise all the key points, and namecheck each person who made them, for über listening skills.
We hope this article was helpful. For more information from Host Media Consultants, please visit their CPD Member Directory page. Alternatively please visit the CPD Industry Hubs for more CPD articles, courses and events relevant to your Continuing Professional Development requirements.
¹ ‘Appreciative Team Building’ by Diana Whitney, Amanda Trosten-Bloom, Jay Cherney and Ron Fry, 2004