CAD Management: Learning to ask great questions!

To perform my job as a Drafter, I have to have all the answers. To do well as a CAD manager, I’m learning the power of asking questions!

I’ll bet we all do it. As professional technical experts we like to have all the answers. When asked a question we like to give a thoughtful, well considered and above all complete response.

It’s a difficult habit to recognize in yourself, and a difficult habit to break. After all, it’s a habit that has been successful – so far!

It’s my belief that great CAD management can only happen when you are trusted. The people you work with have to believe in you, and they have to trust you – but what can you do to earn their trust?

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan


Learning to ask questions

Earning trust has to be your number one task as a CAD manager. Without trust you just aren’t going to get anything done.

One way to earn peoples trust is to talk with them! Not lecture, not preach, not evangelise, not talk to them, talk with them.

The trick is to ask enough open ended questions to get them talking and then listen.

Conversation killers

I could be accused of asking to many leading questions, questions that imply I will favour a certain response. People are sensitive to this and they will try and give me the answer that they think I want.

This is not usually the insightful and meaningful reply that I was hoping for – it’s little better than an echo!

The other kind of question I am learning to avoid are closed questions, questions with a yes/no answer. This kind of question stifles conversation and leaves everyone standing around nervously trying to think of something to say…

I’m trying to avoid…

Closed questions that usually start with:

  • Would
  • Should
  • Is
  • Are
  • Do

I’m trying to use…

Open questions that start with:

  • Who
  • What
  • Where
  • When
  • How

I’m trying to avoid…

‘Why?’ questions about the past,

‘Why did you mess that up so badly!’

And instead use ‘How’ questions about the future

‘How can we improve that process next time?’

Be prepared

I’m learning not to wait until I’m in conversation to try and think of open ended questions that will keep the conversation going. I’m thinking now about questions that I can ask that will give me insights into my team and help me to earn their trust.

I find it especially useful to prepare some open ended questions before going into a meeting, or making a phone call.

Some examples


‘Are you happy with this drawing?


‘Tell me about this drawing’


‘Why are you showing me this terrible drawing!’

Active listening

Asking open ended questions is great start, now to show people I respect them, and gain their trust, I have to show that I’m listening.

Do – repeat their answers back to them

Don’t – interrupt

Do – ask them to expand on their answer, by following up with ‘why?’, ‘How?’ or ‘What if’?’ questions:

‘What makes you say that?’ or ‘What did you learn from that?’, ‘Can you give me an example?’, ‘Why?’…

Don’t – tell them why their answer is wrong!

What to do when you run out of questions

Smile, nod, make eye contact – but don’t say anything! I’m slowly learning the power of silence. People don’t like empty silences (Including me!). I becoming more confident that they will think of something to say to fill the gap.

By giving them some breathing space to think without having to listen to me, I am pleasantly surprised at  what they come up with!

More great questions

  • How will you know if you are successful?
  • What contributed toward you success with this task?
  • What would you do differently next time?
  • What are we assuming?
  • What do you know? – what do you think you know?
  • How else could we do this?
  • What could we use to do this differently?
  • Is there another way to approach this?
  • What have we learned from this?
  • What come next?
  • What would our competitors say if they could hear us talking?
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles


Now my question for you

How do you feel about this post? Can you give me an example of an open ended question that got you an unexpectedly valuable response?

Tell me about that ;)



6 Responses to “CAD Management: Learning to ask great questions!

  • Great feedback, Thanks very much everyone :)

  • Show me exactly what you did?
    Show me how you would normally do this?

  • I agree with the silence trick. It reminded me of doing it in my last job. We would probably have 3-4 periods of silence in some meetings, by the 3rd-4th period, it was pretty much the end of the meeting since truly no one had anything else to say anymore. It’s a great tip and surprisingly it’s one tip which I unconsciously implemented. I’d never really thought about it the way you have, I just wanted to make sure everyone had said their bit.

  • Andrew Handley
    10 years ago

    Brilliant post Paul.
    Breaks down and clearly sets out the thought and consideration needed in asking questions to understand end users needs and aspirations.

  • bcbenton
    10 years ago

    This is a great post. Thank you for writing it. All managers should read this and heed the advice. I was working with my CAD People a few years ago during a monthly CAD meeting. We had several people present “tips” that they have picked up and found useful. A few users were bored because they felt the tips were “basic” and that “everyone should already know this”. There was tension in the room so I asked “How do we know what we don’t know?” Someone responded “That’s impossible unless you seek out information on a consistent basis. Everything you already know is simple and basic. If it is unknown to somebody else that information could be groundbreaking for them. Isn’t that why we have these meetings? To share our knowledge with each other in order to better the entire department? I’m glad to receive these ‘simple’ tips because I learn a lot from them. I don’t believe in ‘basic’ tips. If a tip is important enough to one person then it has to be important to at least one more person.” It went along those lines anyway.

    The point was that the only way to improve is to seek improvement. If you know something share it because it could help others to improve, maybe not everyone, but someone, and it could make a world of difference to that one person. If so then you have done your job.

    • Giorgi
      9 years ago

      Brian, you are so right.

      I do think that in the CAD industry, improvement could come in two ways. The people who learned drafting with a software can learn from those who did it with the drafting board and the other way round, the more experienced in managing the software can share tips and tricks to others.

      I am just starting with AutoCAD…and I do ask a lot of questions. Sometimes the answers come as unburied treasures…

      Paul, this article really touched the core of some meeting I have attended. Really well said.