“Our view of reality is like a map with which to negotiate the terrain of life. If the map is true and accurate, we will generally know where we are, and if we have decided where we want to go, we will generally know how to get there. If the map is false and inaccurate, we generally will be lost.” -M Scott Peck.
If it is obvious that asking questions is such a powerful way for learning. So why do we stop asking questions and give more advice or try sell our arguments at any cost. Self-protection? Fear of cognitive dissonance? Or are we just lazy learners? Most in order to create a comfort zone assume they know all the main things they need to know on a subject and then go through life looking for examples and evidence to reinforce our own believes and view of the world. They don’t bother to ask questions because they do not want to upset their views and beliefs. So they don’t ask questions because would require change and pain for them. They cling to outdate beliefs and remain certain in their assumptions – yet they often end up saying stupid things like the world is flat or all those “people” are lazy or do such and such. This inability to be open minded and flexible leads to absolute dogma and in many situations looking or sounding foolish.
Other people are afraid that by asking questions they will look weak, ignorant or unsure. They like to give the impression that they are decisive and in command of the relevant issues. They fear that asking questions might introduce uncertainty or show them in a poor light. In fact asking questions is a sign of strength and intelligence – not a sign of weakness or uncertainty. Great leaders constantly ask questions and are well aware that they do not have all the answers.
Finally some people are in such a hurry to get with things that they do not stop to ask questions because it might slow them down. They risk rushing headlong off the cliff.
With prospect, with clients, at school, at home, in business, with our friends, family, colleagues or managers we can check assumptions and gain a better appreciation of the issues by first asking questions. Start with very basic, broad questions then move to more specific areas to clarify your understanding. Open questions are excellent – they give the other person or people chance to give broad answers and they open up matters. Examples of open questions are:
- What business are we really in, what is our added value?
- Why do you think this has happened?
- What are all the things that might have caused this problem?
- How can we reduce customer complaints?
- Why do you think he feels that way?
- What other possibilities should we consider?
As we listen carefully to the answers we formulate further questions. When someone gives an answer we can often ask, “Why?” The temptation is to plunge in with our opinions, responses, conclusions or proposals. The better approach is keep asking questions to deepen our comprehension of the issues before making up our mind. Once we have mapped out the main points we can use closed questions to get specific information. Closed questions give the respondent a limited choice of responses – often just yes or no. Examples of closed questions are:
- When did this happen?
- Was he angry?
- Where is the shipment right now?
- Did you authorise the payment?
- Would you like to go to the cinema with me on Saturday evening?
By giving the other person a limited choice of responses we get specific information and deliberately move the conversation forward in a particular direction.
Asking many questions is very effective but it can make you appear to be inquisitorial and intrusive. So it is important to ask questions in a friendly and unthreatening way. Do not ask accusing questions. “What do you think happened?” will probably get a better response than, “Are you responsible for this disaster?” Try to pose each question in an innocent way and ensure that your body language is relaxed and amicable. Do not jab your finger or lean forward as you as put your requests.
Try to practice asking more questions in your everyday conversations. Instead of telling someone something, ask them a question. Challenging questions stimulate, provoke, inform and inspire engagement and learning. Questions help us to teach as well as to learn.
Smart-Steps for more positive mindset and action
1. To strengthen our own “stress hardiness” and lessen the likelihood of anxiety and burnout: Practice answering the following questions :
√ Passion and Commitment: What brings purpose to your life?
√ Challenge: Try reframing difficult situations as opportunities for learning.
√ Self-Control : To focus your time and energy on areas of your life over which you have some influence and control.
√ Change intensity of response: Focus on things that happen to you that are unpleasant as inconvenient rather than awful.