You're Asking All the Wrong Questions, but This Mental Trick Will Help You Ask Better Ones
“What’s your problem? Why are you doing that?”
We ask these questions thinking or hesitation. But, when you take a second to think about it, these types of questions don't add value -- they only express your annoyance or impatience.
Even questions like “How are you?” are empty, asked to confirm your pre-existing assumptions.
Let’s break this down.
By asking if someone had a good weekend, you’re assuming that they did have a decent weekend. Most likely, they will confirm that they did. But, you don't actually care about the response.
So, how do you take it up a level?
According to Hugh O. Stewart, co-author of The Magic of High-Quality Questions, questions should serve two purposes:
- To instill confidence in the individual to whom the question is asked. You want the person you are directing the question towards to feel like their answer will make a difference or provide some valuable input.
- To cause creativity, so the individual can use their imagination and problem-solving skills when answering the question.
In order to create confidence and creativity in the person receiving the question, the questioner must recognize their intentions. Why is this question necessary? Why is it being asked? Just as importantly, how are you framing the question?
Many times, the way a question is phrased limits the kinds of answers that can be given. For example, if you are considering taking some classes to learn some new skills, you might ask yourself, “Is it worth it?”
You start thinking about all the time the classes and homework is going to consume. By asking this kind of question, you aren’t left with many options to be creative or come up with new ideas.
But ask instead, “How can I make taking these classes worthwhile?” Then, you will start thinking of all the new skills and knowledge you will gain and how they will help you be better at your job leading to a promotion or raise, or how these skills will help you launch your own business.
Ask yourself how this process of question-asking can benefit you in your workspace. If you have people working under you, then you probably know and understand the importance of being a good leader. Presenting questions in a way that promotes confidence and creativity will also promote an environment of collaboration and respect. You'll empower others to use their problem-solving skills to come up with a solution to problems.
Entrepreneur Editor-in-Chief Jason Feifer tells the story of a man who needed to ask himself some high-quality questions when his daughter was diagnosed with an unfortunate illness. These questions gave him the courage and creativity he needed to transform his life and care for his daughter while running his company and taking care of his own mental and physical health.
You can also utilize these skills when speaking to your children.
Rather than asking, “Why haven’t you done your homework yet?” which will put them on the defensive, you can ask, “What will help you finish your homework on time?”
They may tell you that they’re hungry and they want a snack, or that they don’t know how to do the homework. No matter what their answer is, the question has them thinking about how to finish their assignment by the due date rather than feeling accused for not having it done.
Always strive for high-quality questions. Always consider your intentions and how your questions will make others react.