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 people realize early in their careers the importance of asking good questions. Questions provide clarity and direction. They are the device we use to sift through each day's conversations, catch up with what's going on and cut through the clutter.

If you doubt the value of questions, I would argue that when careers collapse, it is often the result of a lack of insightful questioning. When companies falter, it frequently is a lack of questioning that has brought about the crisis.

Questions lead to resourcefulness-and while resourceful people may not know the answer, they are ready to deal with a situation and confident of their ability to find a solution by asking the right questions.

Most problem-solving techniques share a simple question-and-answer pattern. Who, what, why, where and when questions define the trouble. Follow-up questions cut the issue into smaller, more digestible slices.

Positive questioning triggers the creative process, just as it inspires problem-solving. The heart of creativity is to question what is, leading to what could be. The best creativity concepts share what if "questions and attitudes that, together, bring fresh connections and possibilities.

Why we don't ask questions

Some of the hurdles to honest and open inquiry in the workplace and in our personal lives include:

* FEAR OF GETTING INTO TROUBLE. Questions can be asked to fix responsibility or assign blame. Tone and accompanying gestures can turn a friendly question into a threat. Even an innocent-sounding question, "Why are you wearing that?" can imply something's wrong.

* FEAR OF CONFRONTATION. A manager may reject your query or dismiss it as unimportant. Some people feel that the less they ask, the more they appear to know.

* WHY CAN'T YOU ASK YOUR BOSS A QUESTION? Employees avoid questioning those above them because they fear reprisal or losing face. The giving or withholding of favors (and answers) is how the levers of organizational power are controlled. How far you can go in questioning superiors depends in large part on your present and perceived value to the organization.

* CAN YOU QUESTION A GROUP? A powerful collective feeling of "group think" can occur, even without the participants' awareness. This causes a subtle but constant fear of being "cast out" if one diverges too much from the group's overall direction. …

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