Ask the expert: Hold people accountable by asking yes/no questions

Staff Development Weekly: Insight on Evidence-Based Practice in Education, July 17, 2009

This week, Eileen Lavin Dohmann, RN, MBA, NEA-BC, discusses how to ask yes/no questions that hold people accountable.

Q: How can I hold people accountable for doing what I need them to do?

A: Accountability is about whether the person is committed to achieving the result under discussion. Too often we hear what we want to, rather than what was said. People rarely answer accountability questions with a yes or no. They talk and we mistake their talking for a commitment. We mistake nodding of heads to be a commitment. We mistake "Yes, but . . ." for "Yes."

It is often the "but" or the explanations that can throw you off focus. We need to make sure we ask questions that can only be answered by yes or no. Then you know whether the person has committed to the request.

Engage the person in conversation and make a request: Will you commit to this? Then listen for the answer:

  • Yes: The nurse commits
  • Yes, and: The nurse commits and requests assistance
  • No: The nurse chooses not to commit
  • Yes, but: The nurse says yes but negates it with qualifiers

In the case of "yes, but . . ." the conversation must continue until the ambiguity is resolved.

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