Good question vs. right question

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[audio:|titles=episode-108 The Right Questions]

…The election is almost here and I really am tired of it all. Are you?  More than once I heard a politician say “Good question” but honestly, maybe it was a good but was it the Right Question?

I am sooo tried of the “he said”, “she said”, the negativity, the accusations, and oh, those dreadful, little vague answers. Stop telling and start asking! We learn from the time we are young to give and accept answers, but rarely do we think of the value of the question.

Journalists and writers have been told for years to ask the 5 W’s and the H questions —who, what, when, where, why and how.  An excellent place to start when forming questions, they are:

  • Who obviously identifies the characters and relationships between characters.
  • What questions are based on events and action.
  • Where and When are locations in time and space.
  • Why are used for getting clarity and understanding cause and effect. Be careful with why questions, they often can sound accusing and may cause age regression.
  • How questions are for learning.

Good questions and answers may apply a quick fix and eradicate the symptoms of the problems, yet the underlying root causes continue to fester. Sometimes it is easier to give lip service to a problem with a good question and a fluffy answer than it is to look for the right questions that will lead us to the right answers.  To paraphrase Einstein, “…the same level of thinking that got us here is not the level of thinking that will get us out of here….

As leaders we don’t need to solve the problems by ourselves, but they do need to identify causes.  And the only way to identify causes is by asking the right questions. Right questions dig deep. They look for the root causes.  I love this quote from Bill Georges’ book Seven Lessons For Leading in a Crisis; Lesson #3 Dig Deep “Leaders who stay in their office holding meetings and reading reports instead of gathering firsthand information never have the benefit of using all their senses – touch, smell, sound, sight, and hearing – that trigger their emotions and their intuition to recognize far more than their intellect does.”

Questions can be amazing things. As you read each question below, take a moment and linger over what thoughts and emotions bubble to the surface for you. Consider:

  • Is it benign?
  • What were you thinking?
  • Who do you think you are?
  • How did this happen?

They will produce an answer and often produce an underlying emotional response. Often, it is the emotional response that can lead us to the next right questions we need to continue to ask. Right questions are about knowledge AND action. Right questions lead to next questions, they probe looking to identify the real issues and corrective action.

Understand the difference in a question. If you’re using questions to gather knowledge, define exactly what it is you want to know. Before you pose a question, know what is unclear about the information otherwise you risk creating confusion and not getting an answer or worse, the wrong answer.

If you are leading a group, do not specifically direct question, these are called leading questions, those that you have an answer or wish to create the desired answer for. Doing so will only frustrate those you work with!

Recently, I was sent a survey by a business coaching company asking me:  “What are your business challenges?” It’s a common way to do “market research.” That one question froze me in my tracks and flooded me with possible responses, I didn’t know what to answer, so I didn’t answer…. If the question “If you could solve one problem, what would it be?” had been asked I would have had an answer and not been overwhelmed. See the value of how we ask the question?

As a communications coach, I often hear “How can I get my employees to listen to me?
That is not the right question, we can’t force people to listen, even as boss and under threat – they can fake listening….
The question to ask is “What am I doing or not doing – now, that makes my employees not want to listen to me?”

Listen, you have to lay all concepts or ideas and assumptions on the table.  To get people to share answers that can lead to better questions consider how the practitioners of Clean Language use questions. There are 9 basic Clean Language questions.

  • And is there anything else about ……?
  • And what kind of …… is that ……?
  • And where is ……?
  • And whereabouts?
  • And what happens next?
  • And then what happens?
  • And what happens just before ……?
  • And where does/could …… come from?
  • And that’s …… like what?

Notice how those questions beg to be answered. Unless the root causes are found and corrected, the odds are high that the business will find itself in the same or similar place again. It isn’t always easy to know if you have found the root causes yet a company that continually strives to answer this next question goes a long way to protecting itself from being in the same place soon.  As part of new year planning ask the tough question:

“Why do I (we) do what I (we) do?

If we asked the tough questions of reflection more often, we will be asking the right questions in the present more often.

I’ll close with a favorite quote of mine– The uncreative mind can spot wrong answers, it takes a very creative mind to spot wrong questions. -Sir Antony Rupert Jay, British Author