Magazine article Work & Family Life

7 Steps to Asking Better, Smarter Questions

Magazine article Work & Family Life

7 Steps to Asking Better, Smarter Questions

Article excerpt

Most of us realize at some point in our work lives how important it is to ask good questions in a timely manner.

Questions provide clarity and direction. They allow us to sift through the day's conversations, catch up with what's going on and cut through the clutter.

Asking the right questions can also lead to resourcefulness - but not because resourceful people know all the answers. Rather, it's because resourceful people are prepared to deal with the unknown and more confident of their ability to find solutions by knowing what questions to ask.

Most problem-solving and reporting techniques share a simple question- and- answer pattern. You start to define the issue by asking who, what, why, whereund when questions. Then you ask follow-up questions to reduce the issue to smaller, more digestible slices.

Positive questioning inspires problem-solving and may also trigger the creative process. The heart of creativity is to question what is - leading to what could be. The best creativity concepts share what ?f questions and attitudes that, together, bring fresh connections and possibilities.

Why people don't ask more questions

Asking good questions can be difficult, of course, and there are some hurdles to honest, open inquiry such as the following:

* Fear of getting into trouble. Some questions are asked in order to fix responsibility or assign blame. A tone or gesture can turn a friendly question into a threat. Even asking someone "Why did you do that?" can imply something's wrong.

* Fear of losing face. Some people feel that the less they ask, the more they will appear to know. "What if I ask a question that everyone assumes I know the answer to already?" They may also be concerned that a manager will reject their query or dismiss it as unimportant.

* Fear of reprisal. The giving and withholding of answers (as well as favors) is a time-honored way to control the levers of organizational power. How far you can go in questioning those above you in the hierarchy depends largely on your present and perceived value to the organization.

* Fear of being isolated. We may not want to admit it, but we're all susceptible to "group think" at times - even unconsciously. This can result in a subtle, underlying fear of being "cast out" if we diverge too much from the group's overall direction - if our questions seem to put us too far out on a limb. …

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