The Lost Art of Asking Clarifying Questions

active listening happiness at work leaders Nov 17, 2022

In the ‘’turn-on-your-webcam/turn-off-your-mic’’ world, we live in, we get to communicate with a variety of people from all around the world. All these points of view are exhilarating and the proximity to such diverse people is thrilling.

And when we are not on a video call of some sort, we scroll our newsfeed for inspirational videos and speeches, we read blogs and articles. Talking. Listening. We are either the projector or the receiver.

But, are you actively listening?

Somehow, I have the impression our communications methods became one-sided. What about engaging and understanding?

In reality, we cannot expect everyone always to express themselves with clarity and distill their ideas in the shape of perfectly formed sentences. Nor can we expect ourselves to truly listen, not distracted by our thoughts or pondering about what we will answer back, or eat for dinner. We all do this. Guilty as charged.

A simple behavior to include in your listening habit is to ask clarifying questions.

Clarifying questions are meant for you to make sure you truly understand the message the speaker is sharing.

Next time you get a chance, instead of answering back, posing judgment, or trying to argue, ask:

  • What did you mean by…?
  • Tell me more about…?
  • Are you saying …(Repeat what you believe you understood). Is that correct?
  • Can you be more specific about…?
  • When you say (use one word they used) what do you mean by it?

Keep in mind clarifying questions are meant to provide you with more context. You want to understand your speaker. Where did their idea originate? On which data is it based? What is the intent? Are they trying to provide information or directions? Is the speaker has any bias you should know about?

Listening is being able to be changed by the other person.


Clarifying questions are a way to shift your perspective to someone else point of view. Understanding, not judging.

Give it a try; you might learn something new.

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