If you’re investigating a complaint, then use neutral questions. Neutral questions do not suggest value judgements or interpretations.  You know an unneutral question when you’re asked one, because it probably makes you angry or irritated, even if you don’t know why.

Here are some examples of non-neutral questions.

  • “Why do you have such a problem with Carol?” Judges who is responsible for what, and carries implicit blame.
  • “What have you done to work on your habit of annoying people?” Comes from the questioner’s own assumptions.
  • “Why have you been behaving like this?”  Probing for motivation with a ‘why’ will lead to defensiveness.
  • “So what’s this spat with Carol all about?” Devalues the complaint before it’s even been heard.
  • “What on earth have you done to Carol?”  Humour can all to often be used to disguise an alliance.

Good neutral questions gather information in a non threatening way and encourage the person to think about their own behaviour.  Neutral questions that will generate a narrative response that contains much more natural and genuine information, might be:

  • Tell me more about how you see Carol?
  • Can you help me understand how you get on with Carol
  • When was the last time you spoke to Carol? What happened?
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