Asking the right questions

“Judge others by their questions rather than by their answers.”

What makes a good communicator? What makes a person innovative? What makes a good change facilitator? To all these, my personal answer is: good questions! We have been taught in school for many (maybe far too many) years, and spoon fed the knowledge we needed at the time to pass the courses, yet from a that I have to say that very little managed to stick in my mind. What did stick are the rare occasions when a teacher suddenly asked a question that required me to dig deep inside me for an answer. Questions in general, force the person you are talking to to actively participate in finding meaning and making meaning, even more so than just telling stories or giving advice. So then, what are these good questions?

Well, for starters, you should strongly consider “Why” as the single most horrible question on this planet. What does the question “Why” do? Let’s look at an example:
A: “I am always depressed”
B: “Why?”
A: “Nobody loves me, everybody hates me, I lost my job…..”
After asking “why” all that happened was that B started defending his position, giving reasons. What this effectively achieves is to strengthen the position of being depressed. When, in a discussion you ask “why” all that happens is that the other person will start vigorously defending their opinion or belief, and after that it is more difficult to make changes. The only time you want to ask “why” is when you want to enforce a belief or amplify a positive feeling, and in general, refrain from asking “why” as it gets you nowhere.

Consider asking other types of questions, questions that find out how something is done, or achieved. These group of questions, more than being oriented towards the content of what is being said, aim at the process of how it is made. See, when talking to someone, there are two types of communication approaches: Content or Process. Content deals with what is being said, process deals with how what is being said came about to be. So instead of finding out about why people are depressed, unhappy, or anything else, I prefer to find out how they do that, simply because once you know how they do it, you can change it.

So, the more interesting questions are “how”, “what” or “who” (add in a sprinkle of “specifically” at the end of any of these if you wish. These three simple questions, when put the right way, will help you to shake up not only your own model of the world, but also the model of the person you are talking to, and many times that is what is needed. So, going back to our example:
A: “I am always depressed”
B: “How do you know?”
A:”I feel it in my X” (once you know where A feels X, find out where the other feelings sit. My bet is, they will be in very different places, with different sensations attached. How cool would it be to just substitute some of those categories and notice the changes that happen?)

Good questions not only get a person to think about changes and different options, but also have included in them a subtle direction where to go. In general, it is the lack of questions that leads to stagnation, not only in personal development, but also as a society. I believe in questioning things, simply because it gives me the opportunity to make my own way. Asking the right questions is what allows growth, innovation, creativity, so go ahead….ASK!

“Computers are useless. They can only give you answers.”


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