Shirley's Articles / Speaking with Confidence

Ask Sensitive Questions With The ARQ Technique

Many years ago, I borrowed 20 dollars from a colleague. I’m embarrassed to say that I completely forgot about it. Many months later, my colleague told me he’d felt upset that I never paid him back even though he was sure I’d probably just forgotten. When I asked him why he never just asked me for the money, he said that he would have felt awkward.

Do you ever need to ask sensitive questions? Do you ever feel uncomfortable asking? Do you feel that you are coming across as too aggressive, too personal or too rude?

Don’t avoid asking important questions! Instead let the ARQ Technique make it easy.


Acknowledge that the question is uncomfortable or awkward. Once you’ve laid out the truth upfront, there’s nothing more you have to worry about. You’ve gotten the awkward part out of the way.

“I know this is a sensitive question and might sound a bit blunt.”


Then, give the real reason why you need to ask the question. Usually, when someone understands that your intentions are good, they can accept whatever it is that you’re asking.

“I just want to make sure we don’t have any safety issues.”


Then ask directly. You have already set a tone of goodwill and compassion.

“Does your size ever cause you any problems using the equipment?”

Here are more examples of the ARQ Technique:

  1. “I know this might sound a bit like an interrogation, and I certainly don’t mean it to. I just want to understand how this happened so that we can take steps to prevent it. Were any supplies taken without proper authorisation?”
  2. “What I’m about to ask may sound a bit harsh. But all I want to do is understand. How did we end up spending so much on something that we rarely used?”
  3. “Look, I feel a bit uncomfortable asking this. I don’t want to sound petty. I’m only asking because I’m sure you’ve just forgotten. But do you mind returning that 20 dollars I lent you for lunch a few months ago.”

If my colleague had used this technique, he would have eliminated months of resentment. If you consider what you might lose by not asking important questions, the ARQ technique is a useful skill to keep in your back pocket for those tricky situations we all have at times.

Article written by Marianna Pascal

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Shirley is an international bestselling author. She has established herself as a leading authority in email and business writing skills. Her international bestseller Model Business Letters, Emails & Other Business Documents 7th edition sold over half a million copies worldwide and has been translated into 17 languages. Her book Email Essentials reached #2 in the USA for publishers Marshall Cavendish International. Find out more about Shirley at

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