Communication TipsConsulting Best PracticesManagement

‘Are You Sure?’ Is the Question to Avoid

A post at Consultants Mind addresses one of those questions that we hear a lot in everyday life but should hear less in the office: “Are you sure?” It is a loaded question, specifically a spring-loaded can of worms. Here is why it is problematic and how to avoid saying it.


Especially as a manager to a subordinate, asking “Are you sure?” comes packed with negative connotations. It implies that a person has not collected all the facts and that his or her conclusions cannot be fully trusted. It generally demeans the person. If a person is this untrustworthy in the first place, maybe he or she should not have been hired. Furthermore, the question is vague. How sure is sure?

It is certainly important to scrutinize one’s work, and people should always be seeking to increase the quality of their work. There are better ways to encourage such behavior though. Here are some suggestions for management consultants to junior consultants from the post:

  • Ask if specific items were included or tasks done…
  • Build trust on the team, so everyone understands the mission
  • Ask the author, “Do you like the work you did?”; put the onus on them
  • Ask the author, “Walk me through the main points of the ppt (or excel model)”
  • Ask the author, “What are the parts the client will have most questions about?”
  • Ask the author, “If you had another 2 days to work on it, what would you do?”

The point is to get specific about one’s areas of concern in someone’s work. And if generally wanting to get a pulse on strengths and weaknesses in work, that is when questions like the last one on the list should be asked. There is always a more tactful and respectful way to confirm the strength of work or ideas than asking, “Are you sure?”

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