A Better Question Than “Do You Have Any Questions?”


Recently, I've heard an idea a few times that I'd like to share and discuss in this post. As I'm writing this, I can't remember who to cite. That's my mistake. I'll happily correct the post if I remember or somebody lets me know who to credit. Because I love this idea… but it's not my idea.

It's pretty common for a speaker to ask the audience, at the end of a talk:

“Do you have any questions?”

I'm quite certain I've done that. Sometimes, the answer is yes. But the framing of the question is closed-ended. And the question, whether at a talk or during a meeting, might be intimidating. People might wonder, “Is it OK to have questions? Should I be embarrassed if there was something I didn't quite understand?”

That's why it seems a better question is the open-ended version of that:

“What questions do you have?”

That assumes there would be questions. It gives permission to ask questions. The answer still might be, “No, we don't have any questions,” but I like that framing so much better.

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Applications to Continuous Improvement

I had a discussion with a leader the other day who was diligently “going to the gemba” to visit the front-line work and workers. She seemed, to me, sincerely interested in what her employees had to say and what they were doing — and how they were doing.

She mentioned that she always asks, “Did you make any improvements yesterday?”

That's the closed-ended version of the question.

I gently suggested and wondered aloud how it might go if she asked:

“What improvements did you make yesterday?”

That assumes there would be improvements, or it sets that expectation in a way I think seems positive. The tone of voice matters a lot there.

The answer might be, “We didn't have any” — and the leader clearly wouldn't get upset about that. If “no improvements” was becoming a pattern, it would provide an opportunity to talk with frontline supervisors or other leaders in the chain about actions they can take to encourage and support daily improvement.

What do you think about the two forms of those questions? What's your experience?

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.



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