Have you ever looked at a toddler and wondered where their curiosity comes from? Children when they reach around the age of four often begin to ask what parents fondly refer to as the “W” questions. The word “why” becomes a part of their daily vocabulary and thus begins their learning process. Toddlers learn through asking questions, however, only 15-25% of adults* say that their own interactions consist of questions. So, why do we stop asking?
During our schooling tenure, children are rewarded when we get the answers right to questions, or solve problems. This continues favourably into our adult life and as we build our careers, and we reward those who have the answers, not challenge them. Challenging conventional thinking may often be seen as a threat, and can lead to a person feeling anticipation or fear of being sidelined, so we don’t probe.
In our society, time is of the essence and bosses often want things done “yesterday”, leaving very little time for critical analysis or questioning, and more time for reactive behaviour. We make assumptions, which can result in poor decision-making. For these reasons, we need to slow down to remember that asking the right questions can actually save you a lot of time re-doing work, and lead you to a better end result.
A well thought out question can help you solve a problem, when asked in the right way. In some cases, you may need to elaborate on the problem itself, to expand your view of the issue. Other times, it may be more constructive to reaffirm your understanding of the problem in order to reach a confident conclusion.
Consider the four types of questions described below. Each possess a different view, and each has a goal. Choosing the right way to ask a question will steer the conversation where you want it to go.
Clarifying questions help us to get a better understanding of a statement. Questions such as “can you tell me more?” help to uncover the intent behind a statement, but are often skimmed over as individuals due to time pressures and not wanting to sound like they did not understand, often won’t ask these.
Discover the context.
Adjoining questions are used to explore how concepts or answers apply to different contexts or issues. Asking how something applies in various situations helps us to understand the meaning in broader terms.
Find the source of the problem.
Funnelling questions help us to understand the root of the problem, or the cause. A question such as “How did you segment the data” can help to analyse where and when the problem occurred.
Elevating questions help you to zoom out and see the bigger picture. Sometimes we become so engrossed in the immediate issue, we forget how it fits into the overall picture resulting in the wrong issues being addressed.
In today’s world, there is a constant urgency to come up with the answers. However, asking questions that really matter is a skill that we need to re-learn to make better decisions.
*Mu Sigma client survey