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How Asking the Right Questions Can Elevate Performance Conversations


Great managers ask great questions.

Every good conversation starts with good listening. This is no different in performance conversations. The problem is that performance conversations are often a monologue – spoken by a manager to their employee about how they [the manager] view the employee’s performance. For performance conversations to be truly useful and helpful for both parties involved, that monologue should be transformed into a dialogue – performance conversations has to be two-ways.

The most effective way to break up these monologues is to ask questions.

Asking questions helps empower employees

In one Salesforce Research study of over 1,500 business professionals, it was found that when an employee feels heard, they are 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to perform to the best of their abilities.

When people feel heard, they feel motivated. They are engaged. They feel like they can do a good job. Given that managers account for 70% of variance in employee engagement, asking questions is a simple yet crucial aspect of performance conversations.

Asking questions helps manager dig deeper into issues

Managers are not privy to their employees’ day-to-day.

In today’s workforce, where members are often scattered around the country (or the world), connecting with employees and understanding their day-to-day needs is challenging. Performance conversations are a way for managers to better understand the motivations, challenges, strengths, weaknesses, etc of the employee. These things do not get revealed if the manager does all the talking – asking questions is the only way to dig deep into these concepts.

Asking questions fosters better work connections

Asking questions can foster better work relationships as it can show a sincere interest in getting answers. Employees want to have their work valued. They want to know managers care. A simple way to show interest is to ask questions and actively listen.

Of course, not all questions are created equal. Below we give some tips on how to ask the right questions.

How to ask the right questions

1) Ask open ended questions

A good manager will not settle for a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response. Managers need to ask more in-depth questions to get to know their employees. This will allow them to truly mentor, coach, and teach the employees. In turn, open ended questions push employees to give more than one syllable answers; it gives them the opportunity to talk.

2) Have a series of questions that help dig deep into issues

Having a series of questions can allow managers to reveal things that may not be visible or obvious to the manager.

Example 1: Do you think you received enough feedback and coaching this cycle?

  • Follow up: How can I [the manager] improve the clarity or cadence of my communication?
  • Follow up: What feedback, training, or mentorship has helped you the most? Who gave it to you and how was it helpful?
  • Follow up: Would you like more or less direction from me?
  • Follow up: How can I better support you?

These questions help the manager better understand how they can better support the employee. In the above example, if the manager were to simply stop after asking the first question (Do you think you received enough feedback and coaching this cycle?), little would be revealed about how the manager can further help the employee.

Example 2: What part of the job do you like the best?

  • Follow up: What drains you most about your work?
  • Follow up: In a typical work week, what do you look forward to doing?
  • Follow up: What do you see on your calendar in the short-term that energizes you?

This set of questions helps uncover the what motivates an employee. For managers, understanding what motivates and demotivates employees is a crucial part in engaging them in their work.

3) Follow, don’t lead

Leading questions leave little room for authenticity. It can also be disempowering to the employee – something that should absolutely be avoided in performance conversations.


Leading question:

You forget to read the document, didn’t you?

Open question:

Did you read the document?

Changing the language slightly can help ensure that there is little influence in directing an answer.

4) Avoid rhetorical questions

Rhetorical questions are not genuine inquiries but rather they are used to suggest something or to make a point. They also do not encourage open dialogue. Rhetorical questions should be avoided in performance conversations.

5) Keep it simple

Long, complicated questions will lead to long, confusing answers. It benefits neither party. Keep questions simple and meaningful.

How many questions is too little or too much?

Questions should be able to dig deeper than surface level to 1) create a dialogue and 2) create meaningful results. Asking 2-3 questions often will not even scratch the surface. We recommend asking 6+ questions during performance conversations.

The quality of questions is just as important as quantity of questions. Keep the questions meaningful.

Tip: Document all the answers. A robust performance management software can help managers document performance conversations and follow-up at a later date.

Need some inspiration for your performance conversations?

We list some questions below to help you get started:

  • Are you clear on your role and what objectives you should be working on? What aspects aren’t clear?
  • What do you hope to accomplish in the next quarter? 6 months? The next year?
  • Do you feel like you are reaching your full potential with this position?
  • What do you think is important to have in a work environment?
  • What do you like/dislike about your current work environment?
  • Do you prefer to work collaboratively or independently?
  • What’s most challenging for you in your daily work routine?
  • Do you feel you could go to anyone asking them for help?
  • How does the organization promote work-life balance for its employees? How can we improve it?
  • How can I [the manager] better support you?
  • Is there anything I could be doing better or differently?
  • Is there a situation/objective/task you’d like my help with?
  • Do you have any questions for me?

Want more? Download our 100+ performance questions guidebook.


It is absolutely crucial that managers understand the power of asking employees questions. It engages them. It builds trust. It empowers them. Turnover is costly, and at the end of the day, most people don’t quit jobs; they quit managers.

Ask the right questions.

Actively listen.

It matters.

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