Powerful Questioning: A Key to Effective Communication for Today’s Music Entrepreneurs and Arts Leaders

1339415 34500858

Over the course of a week, think of all the situations where musicians and arts leaders different situations ask questions:

  • To gather information
  • To get to know someone else better in a networking or in an interpersonal situation
  • To solve problems and clear up potential conflicts with collaborators or colleagues

1339415 34500858Asking questions is the most basic form of communication, designed to maximize the learning process through an exchange of relevant information. In order to gather information, create meaningful relationships with others and solve problems effectively, it is important to ask the right kinds of questions, those that engage people in the learning and sharing of information because:

  • It shows a willingness on the part of the questioner to listen for an answer
  • It demonstrates respect for the other person.
  • It helps to create rapport and a closer connection to others.
  • It solicits ideas, input and recommendations resulting in greater buy-in
  • It is solution-oriented.

There are two types of questions: Open-ended and closed-ended questions. Knowing the difference between these two will go a long way to make you a better communicator.

The best way to engage others in meaningful dialogue is through open-ended questions: those that encourage in-depth answers from others, as well as explore perceptions, challenge assumptions, consider possibilities and consequences and lead to solutions and action steps.

Open-ended questions start with the words:




Where and


Closed-Ended Questions

Close-ended questions are those whose answer is “yes” or “no”. Yes/no questions are appropriate when you need absolute clarity and you need to pin something down. The danger of using closed questions is that you forestall dialogue. Moreover, in delicate situations where people disagree this type of questions can sound like an accusation in a conflict discussion.

For example, suppose there is one member of your ensemble who is habitually late. The other members of the group are increasingly concerned about his lateness so you volunteer to talk to the latecomer.

Notice the different between the two questions:

“I notice that you have been late to our last few rehearsals. How can we help you to be on time?”

What if you had said?

“Are you going to be on time this Friday?”

The second question is much more confrontational and does not allow the possibility for dialogue, thus decreasing the chances of resolving this problem amicably.

Closed-ended questions are appropriate when you need to know a deadline or confirm a fact:

“The concert is next week and our manager needs the final program so that the venue can print the programs. Can we sign off on the program by 5:00 today?”

Be sure you understand how to use these questions effectively. Here are some suggestions for how to use open-ended questions in 3 situations that musicians and arts leaders frequently encounter.

Powerful Questioning Tips

1. Information gathering

I am a huge fan of gathering information from other people since they can tell me how things work in reality. One technique is to conduct informational interviews.

Click here for a list of great questions which include the following:

How did you get to where you are now?
Who influenced you?
What does a typical week look like for you?

Notice how all of these are open-ended questions that allow you to gather relevant information, as well as probe more deeply into areas of interest to you.
The same principles apply to any type of research involving other people

2. Networking

Networking is a challenge for many musicians who tell me that they lack the confidence to approach strangers or who feel uncomfortable “selling” themselves. However, if you think of networking as an opportunity to meet new people and learn something new, it can take the sting out of the process. Click here for my top 10 networking tips.

And there is no better way to get to know someone new than through open-ended questions.

For example, suppose you have just performed in or produced a concert and you meet someone new at a post-concert reception. You want to start a conversation so you ask the person:

Did you like the concert?

How long do think this conversation will last?
And what if the person did not like the concert and you have put her on the spot?

Here is another approach:

What did you enjoy about tonight’s concert?

This question can lead to a myriad of possibilities, even if the person did not enjoy the concert. If you are a skilled listener and focus your attention on the other person you can pick up a lot of information that will help you to continue your conversation and build a more meaningful connection to that person.

Other helpful questions include:

What is your musical background?
Where are you from?
Who are your favorite composers/performers/singers/conductors?
What brought to tonight’s event?

So the next time you find yourself in a networking situation, practice using open-ended questions to foster a more meaningful dialogue and get to know the person!

3. Problem Solving and Conflict Resolution

Open-ended questions are essential when a problem arises. For example, let’s say that your collaborative group project is stalled because of differences in artistic interpretation. In this delicate situation, early intervention is important to make sure that each person can articulate his or her point of view and see if you can identify common goals and interests. Your goal to preserve your relationships and get past personality issues as well as come up with the best possible solutions through effective conflict management.

Here are some good open-ended questions that can help collaborators to feel heard and respected, get past their differences and come up with some solutions:

Start with some questions to hear and learn more about the challenge or the situation:

What is our goal in this project?
How do you see the issue?
How does your interpretation support our goal?
What might be our challenges in working with that interpretation?

Open-ended questions are ways to explore people’s assumptions:

What factors go into your assessment?
What would success look like?
What leads you to that conclusion?

Open-ended questions allow people to consider possibilities and alternative viewpoints:

What are the benefits of the other interpretation?
How else might we approach this?
What are the upsides to this?
What are the downsides to this?
What is the difference between these two situations?

Open-ended questions lead to clarity:

What interests do we have in common?
What is the most important factor to you?
What are you willing to give up?

Open-ended questions can lead to solutions:

Where are we on this issue?
What makes sense in moving forward?
What might work here?
Who will do that?
What’s our timeframe?


Avoid asking
because it sounds too confrontational. You can get the same information by asking

“What’s the reason for that?

Asking good questions takes practice! But like any other new skill, if you put your mind to it, you can learn the art of powerful questioning in order to improve your communication skills. You will be delighted at how much better you can find information, connect with others and solve problems effectively and creatively.