non leading questions in business - business listening skills include non leading questions for active empathic listening
non leading questions in business - business listening skills include non leading questions for active empathic listening
non leading questions in business - business listening skills include non leading questions for active empathic listening

Part III: Asking Questions / Listening Self-Study

Listening Strategy and Skills

Your skill as a listener can make or break your success in leadership, teams, customer relationships, and negotiation.

Part III of the topic Listening Strategy and Skills is by editor Bruce Wilson, a business coach for executives, professionals, and entrepreneurs.

>Click here for an overview of all of the sections in this topic.

How Effective Listeners Ask Questions

Sometimes when listening you need to ask questions but don't want to "take over the conversation" from the talker. If you take over you not only risk showing the talker disrespect, but you may never find out what they know and are (or were) planning to say next! The following will help you keep them talking.

Restate, then use non-leading questions. The simplest way to ask a question without derailing someone who is right in the middle of saying something is to restate what the talker just said, then make a non-leading request for more information. (See the preceding section for more about recapping what the talker says.)

Examples of non-leading questions:

  • What do you think about this?
  • What would you do about this?
  • What's most important about this?

Situations where you need non-leading questions:

  • the talker stops talking before you think they've really finished;
  • the talker changes the subject;
  • the talker keeps repeating themselves;
  • the talker presents options without recommending one in particular;
  • the talker doesn't offer, but you want their opinion;
  • the talker looks upset, but doesn't volunteer why.

In each case summarize briefly what was on the table and ask them to say more.

Dealing with Buzz Phrases. When the person you are listening to uses a new or unfamiliar word or phrase, it's important get clarification quickly. Listening with clarity makes a difference both to your understanding of what is being said and the talker's experience of being listened to.

Keep in mind that the talker is going to do a better job of presenting information, and have a more rewarding experience, if they sense they are being understood by you. However, when you seek clarification it's also important not to become defensive or otherwise sidetrack the talker. In this situation you can always try explaining: "You know, I'm not familiar with that yet, could you please explain a little about it to catch me up?"

Essential Listening Skills Self Study Exercises

The following are three exercises anyone can use to practice good listening skills and become more self-aware of your listening style. (For more advanced listening practice, you may want to consider taking a workshop or working with an executive or shadow coach.)

Exercise 1.

Think of three different people you talk to at work. For each, remember an actual conversation. For example, you could pick a controversy, a recurring discussion, or a crisis for your business as the subject of conversation. For each, run through the listening flow chart for at least four loops to see where the conversation might have gone if you had made different choices. Then run through the flow chart again, trying out a different series of choices. (See Part One: Strategies for Business Listeners, to review your choices in more detail.)

Exercise 2.

Choose someone you work with to whom you are comfortable talking. Ask for their help. Tell them you are trying to improve your listening skills. Get their permission to walk through the steps of the listening flow chart, or to experiment with recapping and asking non-leading questions, during some of your actual work-related conversations together.

Exercise 3.

Experiment with your listening skills in casual conversations with friends or strangers you meet at social gatherings or with service providers who serve you in your non-business capacity (for example, the manager at your favorite bookstore or auto repair shop).

Additional Resources:



For those who are especially interested in improving their business listening skills, we recommend that you read (or re-read) Stephen Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (Fireside (Simon and Schuster), 1989, 2000) (>>, particularly the parts which focus on listening to understand and acting with your desired results in mind.



We also recommend Madelyn Burley-Allen, Listening, The Forgotten Skill. A Self-Teaching Guide (Fireside (Simon and Schuster), 1995 (Second Edition)) (>> for more about listening techniques and for simple listening exercises.



If you're intrigued by this section, you may want to read the story of how someone came to understand the role of emotion in communication, and the way he became a master at communicating. I highy recommend Marshall Rosenberg's Non-Violent CommunicationMarshall Rosenberg, Non-Violent Communication (Gazelle Book Service, (September 1, 2003)) (>> I particularly admire the fact that he tells stories of his agonizing failures as well as his amazing successes as a listener -- I find it encouraging to think that he became a master listener because he finds it difficult, rather than natural, and has to push himself to listen well.

If listening skills are truly valuable to you, you should think about what skill level you want, when you need it, and the best way to get it. You may want to look into working with an executive coach and/or a shadow (observational) coach who can give you specific, high quality feedback on your listening skill and a learning approach structured to fit your particular situation.

This section was written by Bruce Wilson, an executive coach, trainer, and facilitator who has helped individual business people and organizations across the U.S. to improve their leadership, customer relationships, and teamwork. For more information about his work, or to get in touch with him, visit


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