Fingernails on a blackboard:  The worst question you can ask

It often happens that I sit in a training program, sales meeting or similar gathering and the leader sums up the content with this standard question, which I’m sure you’ve used many times yourself:  “Does anybody have any questions?”

Every time I hear this question I jump right out of my skin, and today we’ll talk about why it’s a poor choice and what you must do differently.

Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedBut first let’s look at this problem from two points of view, first from the facilitator or manager, and then from the meeting participant. Say you’re the facilitator, and there’s a reason for that word, one who makes the learning easier for the group.  What you want to have in your sessions is learner engagement, dialog, discussion and the certainty that the learners understand, or have skill in the content delivered.

Accordingly, you LOVE questions!  The more the better. When the learners ask questions, they’re telling you they don’t fully understand, lack clarity or need additional information.  All skilled facilitators know this and encourage learners to speak out.

Now suppose you’re the sales manager wrapping up a meeting with an action plan for back-on-the-job performance. Do you want your team to leave the meeting with any uncertainty or misunderstanding about what to do? Of course not.  You’d love for them to ask questions, so you can be sure the whole team is on board and clear about the mission.

So now let’s turn to the meeting participant.  Think of when this has happened to you.  You’ve heard everything, paid careful attention and have the best intentions to perform, but you have just one little uncertainty.  You might ask a question to get some help, but you’re worried about being the first dope to speak up.  You don’t want your colleagues or the leader to think less of you.  I can tell you from experience that no one in a group meeting wants to “look dumb” or be embarrassed. So you half-heartedly put your hand up, then pull it back down.  No questions.

Get the idea?  So promise right now to strike from your canned presentation this horrible closing:  “Does anybody have any questions?”  And instead substitute the more welcoming, “What questions do you have about what’s been covered?

Do you see the difference?  The ineffective question assumes “You ought to understand this and there shouldn’t be any questions.”  The better approach is “I assume there will be questions and I would like to help you with them.”

Remember that skilled, polished communicators are intentional about the way they form sentences and position what they say.  Often their professional approaches are simply small changes in the words chosen, in order to bring about the desired effect.

You want questions?  Then say, “What questions do you have?”  You want the meeting to end and everybody in a fog?  Then say, “Does anybody have any questions?” Get it?

Good.  What questions do you have about what I just covered?

Think Like Your Customer

About Gregory LaMothe
I teach people how to sell things. I own the company ActionSystems. Visit my website at

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