Effective questioning as a critical skill of tomorrow MSLs

ИзображениеPharma’s engagement with thought leaders and advisory boards is significantly transforming under intense public observation and demands transparency. This makes Medical Affairs teams enhance patient access to optimal medical treatment through clearly demonstrating value to physicians. In order to understand and clearly demonstrate value, Medical Affairs have to strengthen understanding of local medical practices and patient needs, deriver relevant insights from this and utilize those insights to ensure that brand strategy maximizes the medical benefits for patients and physicians.

The first critical element of this chain is understanding local medical practices and patient needs. Both require an MSL skill of effective questioning. Effective questions will help MSLs to connect with thought leaders in a more meaningful way and better and fully understand their needs and problems.

An analogy might be the trainer who asks a lot of questions, mostly irrelevant, slips off topic, unable to get to the essence of the training. At the end of the training when little progress was made, the attendees are left wondering what they learned. Like a trainer is responsible for the progress of the trainees, MSLs are the corporate owners of thought leaders engagement and education.
Asking good questions is not an abstract idea. There are concrete steps one can take to acquire this skill.

1. Have a specific goal. Decide in advance what you want to achieve with your questions to a thought leader. Focusing will help you eliminate unnecessary questions.

2. Do your homework. Write out the questions you want to ask, in advance. Make sure every question relates to the idea or topic on which you are focusing. Put these questions in a logical sequence. Even if you end up deviating at times your list will give you a road map to follow.

3. Ask open-ended questions. Avoid questions that can be answered by “yes” or “no.” To do this, ask questions beginning with: Who, what, when, where, why and how. For example, instead of asking, “Will the current guidelines fit to respond to these clinical challenges?”, ask “What is it about the current guidelines that will make them a response to the new challenges?”

4. Ask only one question at a time. Otherwise, you risk to cause confusion or receiving a partial response. For example, instead of asking “Why do you say that product A is more efficacious than B and what was wrong with B and how do you think the patients should be treated instead of B?” ask, “Why do you think product A is more efficacious than B?”, “Why do you think product B failed?”,“How do you think the patients who fail on B should be treated further?”

5. Ask empowering questions. As I said earlier, most people like to talk about themselves and the work they do. So ask questions that allow them to reflect on their experience and share it with you. For example,“May I ask for your advice?”, “Based on your experience, what are your recommendations?”

Behind effective questioning is also the ability to listen to the answer and suspend judgment. This means being willing on understanding what the person who is talking is really saying. What is behind their words? Good listening is a part of effective questioning. Though sometimes a desire to keep control of the conversation and demonstrate intelligence and skills may prevent us from listening or asking good questions.

As a conclusion, development of effective questioning skills in MSL teams may lead to gathering better information, do more solution oriented problem solving and eventually reduce mistakes. Also good questions may help to persuade thought leaders in smooth and trustful manner.


1. Pharma Medical Affairs 2020 and beyond – McKinsey & Company Report. http://www.mckinsey.com

2.The Art of Effective Questioning: Asking the right question for the desired result. http://www.coachingforchange.com

Written by Dr. Alexander Tolmachev

Originally published on MSL Society blog.

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