Updated: Sep 23, 2020
You may have heard that asking questions like “why?” can be a powerful learning tool. And I totally agree- I’ve seen it in action and used it myself with great results. But it doesn’t always work. Sometimes we get in the way.
Asking questions can challenge a group to think about things in a different way. It can help a client better understand, appreciate, and use a product or service you offer. It can promote professional growth in your direct reports. But only as long as questions are asked in the right spirit. In my experience, I’ve also seen questions used for the wrong reasons and in the wrong spirit. Asking a question you believe you already know the answer to in order to persuade someone or trick someone into agreeing with you isn’t a question at all- it’s more of a “quiz”-tion.
Consider being asked this question: “Why did you choose to do it that way?"
How did you hear that question?
If you heard that question with low trust, you may have heard a judgement that you did it wrong. The real question you heard was probably something like: “What idiot would have chosen that method to solve that problem?” or “Duh- how could you think that?” This question usually prompts a defensive response, bad feelings, and little chance for an exchange of ideas and learning.
If you heard that question with high trust, you may have heard someone really wanting to understand. “Tell me more…” or “Help me understand...” describe the spirit of the question here. This type of question can drive a meaningful exchange of ideas and knowledge sharing. But hearing the question this way requires a trust of intention from the person being asked.
So the next time you ask a question to try to teach someone something, be sure that you’re asking first in an effort to understand. The person being asked needs to trust that you really want to hear what they are thinking- not that you know the right answer and want to see if they “get it right”.
This requires a level of humility. It requires accepting that you might not have all the information, that you might not have all the answers, that you might not be right– and being OK with that. Heck, you might even learn something.
So the next time you use asking questions as a learning tool, ask yourself this question first:
Is this a quiz?