New program teaches business students how to ask valuable questions

Contact: Stacey Anderson

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—When students step into an interview, a networking event, their first full-time position or an important meeting, one of the crucial skills that sets them apart is asking good questions.

Since questions and solutions are the foundation of business, Western Michigan University's Haworth College of Business has created a comprehensive program to help students become skilled at asking valuable questions. The FRAME™ methodology teaches students to ask questions that are focused, relevant, assertive, mindful and eloquent (FRAME), which fosters the confidence to be a great team member in the classroom and beyond.

FRAME™ is first introduced to students in the Introduction to Business Communication course, that all pre-business students take.

“I was immediately onboard with the FRAME method,” says Tim Buchanan, instructor of business communication. “I had already been devoting time in my lessons to the importance of asking questions and how to ask them, and FRAME provided a stronger focus for those lessons. The biggest surprise to me has been how quickly and easily my students took to generating more developed and insightful questions when prompted.”

Buchanan encouraged his students through a variety of methods, including an activity that discussed objective, subjective and evaluative questions where students generate these types of questions about the same subject.

“This helped me illustrate the power and necessity of asking different kinds of questions, and it represented an all-time high for classroom engagement,” says Buchanan.

Ultimately, Buchanan plans to add more activities to underscore the importance of questions and hopes to see students ask questions unprompted as they grow in their skills.

“I want my students to see the value of questions, not just for the sake of being informed but also as something that curious people who are engaged in the world rely on. I also want them to come away with the knowledge that their questions matter and deserve to be answered.”

And students are walking away with that feeling!

“Over the course of the semester, the FRAME method has been a transformative tool that significantly enhanced my communication skills, particularly within the context of the business world,” says student Elie Mukanya of Kinshasa, Congo. “I found FRAME™ to be invaluable in articulating and presenting my ideas. The structured approach used in the FRAME method played a crucial role in ensuring clarity and effectiveness in my communication, making it an indispensable asset in various academic settings.”

As an international student, Mukanya says the question-based activities are beneficial.

“FRAME empowered me to ask questions, which proved to be immensely helpful in navigating language barriers and expressing myself with precision, contributing significantly to my growth and confidence.”

Mukanya also received positive feedback from his supervisor for his on-campus job where he is a student assistant in WMU Facilities Management. After he had experience with FRAME, he expanded his ability to facilitate and contribute to impactful communications in a workplace setting.

And that is the goal. The genesis of FRAME was an observation by Rhonda Davenport Johnson, B.B.A.’84, MBA’93, executive vice president of retail banking, Comerica Bank, and E. Christopher Johnson, Jr., North America vice president and general counsel, General Motors (retired), that successful emerging leaders know how to ask the best questions in order to gain insight, while also earning the respect of their colleagues and managers in how they approach conversations. With a passion for supporting Business Broncos, they began working with WMU Haworth administrators, business communications faculty and staff to develop and fund what would eventually become FRAME.

“In our respective professional careers, we have seen the value leaders and employees bring to discussions by asking effective questions,” says Davenport Johnson.  “Asking great questions is a powerful skill that will distinguish WMU students in their personal and professional lives. It is a way to stimulate deeper discussion and allow others to engage, which leads to collaboration. Personal growth is gained when you demonstrate curiosity, which also elevates how you are perceived by others.”

Student Caden Carr of Hudsonville, Michigan, sees FRAME as contributing to his overall professionalism and providing context for his questions.

“The most important aspects of FRAME for me are asking relevant questions and being assertive in order to be perceived as confident while also conveying a clear meaning to those I ask questions of.”

This is the first year of a multi-year FRAME experience for business students. They will continue advancing their knowledge in the Professional Business Communication course that they take as business majors and in the Business Professionalism course. There are additional planned activities offered through the Student Professional Readiness Series and via WIRED and the Business Externship Program, too. The University Libraries is also integrating FRAME concepts into existing activities for business students about questions, source evaluation and others.

Shauna Waltmire, a graduate student who works in the college’s Communication Center as a dedicated tutor for FRAME, has been attending Introduction to Business Communication courses to assist with instructing students in the method. Waltmire also meets with students individually or in groups to extend their capacity with FRAME through additional practice and feedback.

“Some students understand the importance of using the FRAME model in the business world from the beginning,” says Waltmire. “When given examples of poorly phrased questions, these students recognize the errors. However, a large number of students need clarification in the form of good examples. Students are eager to practice and improve with FRAME. They are building foundational knowledge of the process of creating, modifying and presenting their questions, which positions them to be successful in a business environment. It’s exciting to be part of it.”

Learn more about FRAME™

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