Asking Questions That Count

Yesterday, I had the opportunity of participating in the Government of Canada’s Communicators’ Learning Summit in Ottawa, with sessions broadcast to regional communicators across Canada.

My session was on the Top 10 Strategic Questions that I think every communicator should have in their back pocket.

The gist of it was this: no one likes to look uninformed in front of co-workers. But there’s a world of difference between an uninformed question and a challenging one that clarifies thinking or changes perspective. That difference is where your value as a strategic communicator comes in.

The quickest way to add value in a communications discussion—even on a file you don’t yet know well—is to ask questions that help sharpen a focus on desired results. Questions such as “what does success look like?”, “why this, why now?” and “what are our audiences looking for?” will boost the calibre of your contribution.

For example, you might be called in to participate in a meeting on improving your association’s intranet site. Almost certainly, everyone around the table has an opinion about content, the approval process, design, navigation and so on. Such considerations are important, of course—but they can’t be addressed well except in light of a shared understanding of what the intranet is supposed to achieve.

That’s why your prime job is to push the meeting past a discussion of tactics toward the strategic ‘big picture’ level. That might involve asking what goals are being pursued through employee communications; how the intranet fits within the employee communications plan; and how to assess whether the intranet is meeting those goals. Those are the kind of questions that really add value and earn your keep.