Questions

Published: Apr 17 , 2015
Author: Alan Smith

Questions, questions everywhere, and not an answer in sight.

Asking good questions is productive, positive, creative, and can help get us what we want. Most people believe this to be true and yet often people do not ask enough questions. Perhaps one of the reasons for this is that effective questioning requires to be combined with effective listening.

Last week I was listening to Eric Pickles, the conservative MP being interviewed on Radio 4’s today programme.

The interview in question concerned the (controversial) policy launched by the conservative party to encourage the population to become more involved in voluntary altruistic activity.

Communities secretary Pickles suffered a bruising encounter as he struggled to explain Tory plans to give workers three days' paid leave for volunteering.

David Cameron pledged a future Conservative government will offer workers in the public sector and big private companies three days' paid leave for volunteering. Large companies are classified as those with 250 or more employees.

Almost 15m workers will be eligible for the extra leave.

Pickles likened the policy to workers taking their annual leave. Pressed on who would pay for the cost of nurses in NHS hospitals taking an extra three days away from work, Pickles was unable to name a figure. He said: "It would be worked out so as not cause inconvenience to hospitals." 

Probed further as to why his party felt the need to force more volunteering on large private companies, Pickles argued it was about "putting something back into society". However, the lack of detail and weak phrasing came off to many listeners as political waffle.

The senior Tory became increasingly frustrated with the line of questioning and repeated the same comeback he used earlier in the interview, "I'm sorry my answers are getting in the way of your questions."

Two things struck me about this. The first is the temptation when the other side are on the back foot to continue to apply the pressure and go for the kill. No mercy, no quarter. In a situation like the general election you can be excused this vicious questioning, avoid it in a commercial situation perhaps.

The second is the value of practicing and rehearsing responses to difficult questions. To hope that they won’t get asked or busking a response on the hoof may get you into a right Pickle.

The value of a good question is getting a response, both parties have an interest in that.


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Alan Smith
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