How many questions do you ask in the course of a day? And what’s your strategy for doing so?
After all, what happens when you are asked a question? Even here, as you read a blog post, you are responding to my questions.
Have you ever noticed how each question guides your attention in a particular direction? It seems to be automatic: whenever we are asked a question, we can’t help but go inside ourselves in search of an answer.
If I were to ask, for example, “When was the last time you felt intensely curious?” what effect would that have on you?
You might imagine that you ask questions innocently, simply for gathering information about what your team is doing. But by paying attention to the other effects of questions, you can make them do double duty, helping your team to work more effectively.
This is especially important when you work remotely. As you’ll have experienced, narrow-bandwidth, asynchronous communication media such as email can provide a minefield of misunderstandings. On an audio-only conference call, it’s often difficult to appreciate how your question has landed.
And even on video, an innocent question can easily provoke an unexpected response.
The 3 Effects Of Questions
Apparently, four-year-olds ask up to 390 questions a day – and they probably don’t have a very strategic approach to questioning. But even children’s questions will have an emotional effect on the person being asked. They might make mom feel clever, or stupid, or harassed, or proud – depending on the question, whether mom knows the answer, and on how busy she is when it’s asked. And occasionally, a question will get mom thinking deeply.
What does this teach us about questioning strategy? It highlights three of the major effects of questions:
- To encourage someone to provide information that we lack
- To change someone’s emotional state – the questionee’s, the questioner’s or an observer’s
- To encourage specific kinds of thinking.
These three effects are interlinked: most questions will have more than one effect.
How To Devise A Questioning Strategy
- What are you aiming to achieve?
- What kind of thinking do you aim to encourage?
- What emotional effects do you intend to have?
- What information do you hope to gather?
So, for example, if you would like your team to come up with innovative ideas to solve a problem, then you probably want to encourage divergent, creative thinking. For that to happen, you’ll want the whole group in a state of relaxed alertness, with an atmosphere of trust and openness. Then, you’re likely to be in a position to gather a bunch of suggestions – and perhaps even to choose a workable solution.
What kinds of questions would help this to happen?
- What question will you choose to kick things off? You might start to build trust with a question which encourages team members to share something about themselves, such as, “When you are at your most creative, you are like… what?” Then, set an example to the rest of the team by asking non-judgmental questions about their answers.
- As you move into the brainstorming session itself, what open questions will you use to encourage divergent thinking. “What if…?” “What might happen if…?” “What else…?”
- What questions could you ask to encourage quieter members of the team to contribute, without putting them on the spot? What questions would prompt someone to suggest something really off-the-wall if things start to get a bit predictable?
- And finally, what questions will draw the conversation to a close?
Now you’ve read this far, I have one final question for you. What will you do differently as a result of reading this post?
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