The Art of Asking Questions

Nov 30, 2020

Which would you rather do? Raise your hand with an answer? Or raise your hand to ask a question? Our culture celebrates answers over inquiry. This is one of the reasons we have trouble with questions.

We avoid questions out of a natural desire to protect ourselves. It’s uncomfortable to step into the vulnerable position of not knowing. We don’t want to look inferior to our peers. After all, we have been conditioned to think it’s better to show up with an answer than a question. That might have worked in a more static world, but our world is anything but static.

To get good answers, we need to ask good questions.

Another reason we have trouble with questions is because we are often in a rush. The American culture rushes to action. But good questions take presence to populate and time to formulate. We end up focusing on action at the expense of thinking and questioning.

A third reason we struggle with questions is we’re out of practice. For most of us, from the time we turn four years-old our curiosity begins to wane, and by adulthood we have fewer questions and more default settings.

With that in mind, there are two types of mindset that affect the impact of the questions we ask, learner mindset and judge mindset. The learner mindset is responsive to life’s circumstances and minimizes the likelihood of misperceptions, bad judgement, and inappropriate behavior.

On the other hand, the judge mindset is reactive, disempowering, and closes the gateway to identifying paths to success.

Practice asking more empowering questions. Empowering questions get people to think and discover their own answers.

Four Types of Empowering Questions

Affective Affective questions are feeling questions. They invite the heart into the conversation by asking such questions as, “How do you feel about…?”.

Reflective – Reflective questions are exploratory questions and invite the mind into the conversation by asking, “What do you think about…?” or “What’s on your mind?”.

Probing – Probing questions go deeper by asking the person if they can elaborate, or simply asking, “What else?”.

Clarifying – Clarifying questions free us from ambiguity. This is where you seek meaning and request specifics. For example, “What specifically did you meany by…?”. You can also go directly to the heart of the matter by by asking, “What’s the real challenge here for you?”.

The answers are behind the questions we ask. The right answers are the ones that work. The art of asking questions comes down to building a habit of curiosity, maintaining a willingness to listen, and following up on conversations with action.