In our communication courses we teach that asking good questions is the key to helping others think for themselves and thereby learn more deeply. We also teach that utilizing different kinds of questions than most of us habitually use creates new thinking. Questions that:

  1. Help someone see the problem from a different perspective
  2. Uncover untrue, limiting beliefs and assumptions
  3. Identify the different and unique strengths the person has to bring to bear on the solution
  4. Help someone see resources that otherwise they might not think of
  5. Allow the person to go beyond either/or thinking into both/and expansion
  6. Differentiate between complex and complicated

However, when we ask participants to dream up these kinds of questions around a specific topic, it takes several minutes of brainstorming to shift from their usual questions. “Have you tried…” “What happened?” “Who did it?” “Can you get (more money, more people, more equipment)?” It is really hard!

The reason it is so hard is that we have many years of practice asking questions that are designed to get data so we can solve a problem. If one could add questions that make people think instead of regurgitate information then better answers, better solutions, better thinking would occur. So how to do that?

We have so many opportunities to practice good questions but one of the best ways is to not give advice or opinions until you have tried to get the other person to come up with the answer themselves.

  1. Make a list of the most common questions you get. “Should we do it this way or that?” “How should I handle this issue?” “How can we give them what they want without causing another problem?”
  2. Next, spend some time creating questions that make the other person think. Not retrieving information they already have or should have, but to really think differently.
  3. Practice using the new questions instead of answering and telling.
  4. Let us know in the comments section what questions you thought of and what happened when you used them. We’ll comment back, praising, offering suggestions, and answering questions.

Here are a few to get you started:

Should we do it this way or that? If you were the customer what are the advantages and disadvantages of each?
How should I handle this issue? What are you truly good at that would be useful here?
How can we give them what they want without causing XYZ? What they want is a solution to something. What is it?
I don’t know what he wants! What is stopping you from being successful with him? Is that true?

I’m looking forward to reading your questions, and hearing about what happen when you use them!