Why asking sensitive questions is hard for people and what to do about it

Updated: Nov 11, 2019

In many cases there are hard questions that are not asked in the work team. A new recently published study suggests that “in a conversation individuals balance competing concerns, such as the motive to gather information and the motives to avoid discomfort, and creating a favorable impression” and that “individuals avoid asking sensitive questions, because they fear making others uncomfortable and because of impression management concerns”. The researchers found that people’s aversion and avoidance to ask these hard and sensitive questions is “both costly and misguided”.

The aversion to asking sensitive questions is so strong that even when the researchers incentivized people to ask sensitive questions, people were reluctant to do so. That shows how fundamental these avoidant approaches are. It seems that those who asked sensitive questions significantly overestimate the interpersonal costs of asking these questions.

Think about it. You may lose more from not asking sensitive questions than what you gain from being overly sensitive.

Hard and sometimes sensitive questions that are not asked impair the ability of a team to move forward. That is why asking these questions is not only less threatening than people may consider, but also vital.

Try it at home.

Try TEAM LISTENING for great questions tool for managers and HR!


Hart, Einav and VanEpps, Eric and Schweitzer, Maurice E., I Didn’t Want to Offend You: The Cost of Avoiding Sensitive Questions (June 24, 2019). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3437468 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3437468