The risk with direct questions

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What now?

The risk with the direct question is that the person being asked could assume intent within the question. E.g. asking what risk there in this release could be assumed that you think there is a risk in the release or that you don’t trust the individuals ability. 

This could lead to a break down in your relationships and make asking any further question almost impossible. This is more likely if you don’t have a working relationship with the person and is another good reason why taking time to get to know each other is so important. See foundations of great teams start with relationships to learn more.        
So what do you do if you need to ask questions that could be interpreted as having intent?  

Use indirect questions 

The indirect question come across much more tentatively and allows the person being asked to offer more if they want to. If it is taken in the wrong way it also allows you to back out and try and get back to a productive conversation. 

Now if they respond in the negative with no additional information as to why then you can tentatively inquire as to what makes the individual so sure. e.g. That’s great, what is it about this release that makes you so certain? 


  • Direct: What risks are there in this release? 
  • Indirect: Do you think there could be any stakeholder impact in this release? 
  • Direct: What could go wrong with this release? 
  • Indirect: Are there any ways in which you think this release could behave unintentionally? 
  • Direct: What risk mitigation have been carried out for this release? 
  • Indirect: Are there any areas you think we could have impacted with this release? 

The indirect questions asks the person for their opinion on the situation which takes away any emphasis on their work. While the direct questions don’t mention anything about their part in the work the risk that they could interpret your body language/tone or some past interaction as the reason behind you asking could derail the conversation. Essentially they may not give you the benefit of the doubt and jump straight to malicious intent even though there is none. 

Trade-offs of indirect questions  

The downsides of indirect questions is that they take longer to ask and more effort to construct. Which slows down feedback loops and learning from each other. It also makes long term collaboration that much harder and more likely for people to avoid situations all together. 

While building effective working relationships seems like a lot of effort I believe the long terms benefits of more effective collaboration is well worth it. Good relationships lets you just talk to each other.  

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