Rupert Eales-Whites in his book, “Ask the Right Question!”
says, “The core reason for negative or unsatisfactory
outcomes in conversations and relationships is the failure
to ask the right question. We all fail in this regard,
because we have never been taught the art and science
of effective questioning.” This month I would like to
share some thoughts on the…..
The Art of Asking the Right Questions
What makes a good question?
Is it really that hard to ask a question that will open up discussions,
create learning and sharing, and result in productive communications?
The truth is, most of us don’t know how to ask good questions,
or when we do ask a really great question, it is by accident.
There are several ways to ask questions. Some people seem really
good at it, while others use a random, what-ever-pops-into-head
approach. Fifty percent of good communications is good listening.
Asking the right questions must precede good listening. Good
questions pave the way for good communications. We have all
encountered problems with bosses and colleagues, and especially
with spouses from asking the wrong question at the wrong time.
We scratch our heads and wonder what went wrong? After all,
we were just asking, right? The problem is that we were raised
by parents and teachers who asked the wrong questions for most
of our lives. Parents ask their children questions designed
to teach them something. Teachers also use questions that are
rhetorical or Socratic, designed to make us think and come up
with the right answer, as predetermined by them. There is usually
only one right answer, the one they are looking for.
Here’s a clue: these people—parents and teachers—aren’t really
asking questions. They are trying to tell us something. They
do not ask questions to learn something, but to teach what they
determine is important. We learn from parents and teachers the
wrong way to ask questions in the adult world. What Real Questions
Are Supposed to Do Real questions are designed to learn about
the other person’s way of thinking, and to gather information.
A truly neutral question is rare. Most of us ask leading questions
designed to influence others to our way of thinking, just like
our parents and teachers do. Instead of gathering information
about the other person’s perspective, our questions lead someone
down a thinking path of our choice. One needs only to view TV
courtroom dramas to see prime examples of leading questions.
When you ask leading questions, you must hold your own agenda
in sight, and design your questions to end up with a predetermined
answer. The person asking the question is focused on getting
to this result, and therefore is not really listening to the
responder with an open and receptive mind. While this can be
an effective teaching method, it is not a way of developing
true and meaningful communications, because the listening is
cut off by predetermined goals on the part of one person.
Different Kinds of Questions
Managers overuse this leading style of questioning, and
then wonder why they dont fully understand the actions
of employees. They dont have a grasp on what is really
going on, because they arent asking open questions designed
for learning. People in relationships, including spouses,
often fall into the leading question trap, in
persistent attempts to influence the perspective of the other
person. People communicate better when they start asking neutral
questions to learn about the perspective of the other.
Some authors define questions as being empowering or disempowering.
Empowering questions are positive ones, such as:
- What works best for you?
- What are you doing right?
- What is your favorite part of this?
- When are you most effective?
Disempowering questions are also called judging questions.
They bring up negative feelings and focus on what is wrong:
- Why did you do that?
- What went wrong?
- Who caused this?
- How could this have happened?
Notice that these disempowering questions
can appear to be neutral. They resemble information-gathering
questions. It depends on the source, the context, and tone
of voice. There is a fine-line between information-gathering
where one is exploring causes in order to find solutions,
and questions that judge and blame. It also depends on who
is asking the questions, their position of authority, and
their prior history of being judgmental and blaming.
In order to frame questions in a neutral, exploration context,
it may be necessary to qualify questions with statements such
as: Help me to understand this situation… I just want to clarify
the sources of this problem so we can solve it… Without blaming
anyone, can we identify where we went wrong here? Questions
are clearly the way to create open discussions, deepen relationships,
and create a learning environment necessary in any relationship,
be it at work or at home. We all fall into the trap of trying
to influence through our questions, because it is so ingrained
in us from early childhood on. It is hard to ask truly neutral,
non-leading questions without influencing.
Asking Coaching Questions
Here are some guidelines for creating a more coach-like approach
in our communications and questions.When problem-solving with
another person, remember these three kinds of questions designed
for three different levels of interactions:
Single loop questions:
How can you fix this problem? What needs to be done differently?
How can this be done better, faster, more efficiently?
Double loop questions:
Is this the right problem to fix? What else needs to be considered?
Is there another way to get better results?
Triple loop questions:
What is your role in this, and how do you need to be in order
for this to be solved? What shifts in your thinking and being
need to happen?
Clearly there is much that goes into asking the right questions
at the right time. There is a body of research designed around
Appreciative Inquiry, in which people are taught the effectiveness
of keeping discussions and questions positive. We live in
a culture that readily diagnoses what is wrong and focuses
on how to fix things, without adequately investigating what
is right. Research shows that people learn better when reinforced
positively rather than negatively, yet we continue to focus
on what is wrong, gaps in performance, and areas for improvement.
As anyone who has ever used a personal or executive coach
will know, a trained professional coach can teach us about
the art of asking the right questions at the right time. Ask
your coach to practice with you on the art of asking better
Many of you have downloaded my new
e-book, “The Art of Leading People.” Thank you. If you would
like to down load the book you can go to my website
coachpinney.com and there is link at the top of the home page that will get
you to the book. I have a couple of spots open on my coaching
calendar, so if you know anyone that is looking for a coach,
I would be happy to discuss coaching with them. Thanks for
your continued support and your referrals..
compliment you can give us is to refer your family and friends.
For the last twenty-two
years Jerry Pinney has been president of his own consulting firm.
Currently he focuses his efforts on providing executive and personal
coaching to persons who are interested in improving their quality
of life and consulting to small and mid-sized companies and nonprofits.
He is a facilitator for peer advisory groups with The Alternative
Board and is a Certified One Page Planning Consultant. Jerry has
over three decades of experience in the food industry, and possesses
a unique perspective of customer service, marketing and strategic
planning. In addition to overall general management qualifications,
Jerry has proven expertise in operational planning and business
development. His food industry career started at Jewel Food Stores
followed by a long career with IGA, with their retailers, wholesalers
and ten years as Vice President of Marketing. In addition Jerry
has served as Vice President of Membership for the National Grocers
Association, Sr. Vice President of Procurement for Shurfine International
and Executive Manager of The Zenon Hansen Foundation.
Jerry has also served on a number of nonprofit
boards including: President of the Volunteer Center of Northwest
Suburban Chicago. He is currently a Project Manager for the Executive
Service Corps of Chicago. Jerrys ESC assignments have included
coaching for several Executive Directors, and consulting on various
Board Development projects and on a number of strategic planning
Pinney & Associates
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