Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/2/2015 (2250 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
I've always been someone who has asked a lot of questions. I'm a curious person, and I want to know why things are as they are. I want to understand the way the world works so I know how to fit into it.
Interestingly enough, when I was a young student, I caused a lot of trouble for myself by asking too many questions and challenging the teachers. But it didn't end there; I also got into trouble at work for asking too many questions.
As a matter of fact, a manager once said he wouldn't consider me for promotion because I was always asking too many questions and challenging the system.
On the other hand, some people hesitate to ask questions because they don't want to look foolish or unintelligent. And when that happens, these individuals miss out on gaining knowledge that might help them in their everyday work or their career.
Leadership guru John C. Maxwell recently published a book called Good Leaders Ask Great Questions. In his view, if you want to be a successful leader, you need to embrace asking questions as a lifestyle.
That's because if you want answers to the way the world works, you need to ask questions. Maxwell compares asking questions to opening doors to hidden knowledge, opportunity and experiences.
What other benefits do questions offer? According to Maxwell, asking questions is the best way to connect with people. However, what questions you ask and how you ask them is what makes the difference. Questions also help you to engage others in conversation and to take the beginning steps to building positive and collaborative relationships. Questions allow us to hear a different perspective on our issues and to build better solutions. Finally, in Maxwell's view, asking the right questions will help us get out of a challenging situation.
Another thought leader, Marilee Adams, author of Change your Questions, Change your Life refers to a strategy for asking questions called question-thinking or QT. This strategy suggests there are two paths to follow when asking questions. The "learner" path lead us to discovering new possibilities, while the "judger" path leads us to react and eventually get stuck in a bad situation. In her view, when something happens around us, we need to stop and think about the concept of a path, observe our thoughts and feelings and then choose how we want to tackle the situation. For instance, we can choose to ask a judging question; "What's wrong?" or we can ask a learner question, "What's working?"
While each of us typically slips in and out of a judgmental mode, people who consistently come from a judger mindset are always either attacking themselves or attacking others. The challenge for each of us, then, is to deliberately move from a judging-question mode to a learning-question mode. In order to do this, Adams suggests you need to stand outside of yourself as though you are watching a movie and observe how you are feeling, thinking and acting. In her view, the more you can do this, the better control you will have on your communication.
In addition, the question-thinking approach helps you to focus on your own "self-talk," whether it be positive or negative. This concept is important, because our internal self-talk typically drives our behaviour. For instance, if you had begun getting ready for your winter vacation, what questions would you typically ask yourself? These would probably be, "What will the climate be like?" "What do I need to wear?" and "How many outfits do I need to bring?" All of these questions then drive you to take a certain action.
At the same time, you need to become aware of the types of questions you ask other people. Is the purpose of your questions to gather information, build relationships, set goals or explore new possibilities? If so, what questions did you ask? And, what is the ratio of your questions versus the statements you make? Whenever you find you didn't get the information you wanted, more than likely your statements have overpowered your questions.
Believe it or not, the questions you ask also impact your physical being. For instance, questions that come from a judger mindset such as, "What's wrong with me?" or "Whose fault is it?" create tension within your body and you will feel de-energized. On the other hand, learner-framed questions create energy and optimism. So whenever you feel negative after a conversation, sit back, observe and reflect on what questions were asked and how they made you feel. You'll be surprised at the results.
Another faulty communication tactic we often don't realize we've engaged in is our tendency to make assumptions about other people. And if we don't test these assumptions by asking learning-type questions, our ability to develop relationships and communicate effectively will be negatively impacted if not outright sabotaged. In order to get out of this type of rut, you need to ask skilful questions such as, "What am I missing" or "How else can I think about this?"
People don't like to be "talked to," they want to be "talked with." And so, overall, if you don't pay attention to how you frame your questions, then you leave yourself open to succeeding or failing one conversation at a time. Think about how much information you would obtain from the following sample "learning" questions:
-- What seems to be the trouble?
-- How do you feel about... ?
-- Can you help me understand your point of view?
-- What other ways did you try?
-- What is your preferred outcome?
-- What else do we need to consider?
-- What are your next steps?
-- What are you thinking?
There are a number of questioning techniques available for our use. For instance, open questions such as those listed above allow you to gather more information. A closed type of question such as, "Are you happy with our customer service?" typically results in a yes or no response. Funnel questions such as, "How many people were involved in this situation?" create responses that help to provide more specific detail and are frequently used in various types of investigations. Probing-type questions such as, "What exactly do you mean by that?" allow you to clarify what someone said.
On the other hand, some questioning techniques serve to lead the conversation toward one's own personal goal. For instance, "How long do you think this project will take?" is essentially an attempt to shape the response to satisfy your own time frame. Finally, when people use rhetorical questions such as, "Isn't she talented?" they aren't asking a question at all; they are simply making a statement.
Improving one's communication will not happen simply by reading this article or turning to the reference books. It takes good observation and consistent, long-term and deliberate effort to act as an observer and improve communication one conversation at a time.
Source: Good Leaders Ask Great Questions, John C. Maxwell, Hatchett Book Group, 2014; Change your Questions, Change your Life, Marilee Adams, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2009
Barbara J. Bowes, FCHRP, CMC, CCP, M.Ed is president of Legacy Bowes Group and president of Career Partners International, Manitoba. She is also an author, radio host and professional speaker. She can be reached at email@example.com.