“To ask the right question is already half the solution of a problem.” Carl Jung
Albert Einstein is said to have claimed: “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.”
His statement illustrates both the importance of asking good questions and the difficulty in identifying what they are.
We ask questions to get the information we need to make decisions. If we don’t ask the right questions, we don’t receive all the information we need and so we make poor decisions.
When our questions are inadequate, bad hires are made, audit results are questionable, strategic plans lack the necessary focus, customer needs aren’t met… I’m sure you get the picture.
It’s not that we rush through identifying the questions to ask. Hours are spent trying to come up with a list of questions that will elicit the information we need. The problem may be that we tend to accept the first answers we receive rather than asking good follow-up questions to probe a little further.
There is a very effective technique of asking “why?” five times to get to the root of a problem. We know that the obvious problem is rarely the problem, and the obvious solution is rarely the solution. We need to give ourselves the time and permission to drill down, to keep asking questions until we have complete and sufficient answers.
The bottom line is that there are layers of good questions. We don’t have to limit ourselves to the first or even the second question we ask. We should keep asking questions until we can dig no deeper.
I’m not suggesting that we do this in every conversation- just in those conversations where the answers may have a significant impact on our relationships, our performance, and/or the business itself.
Simon Sinek has said: “The quality of a leader cannot be judged by the answers he gives, but by the questions he asks.” The questions we ask reflect how we think and how much we care.
Think back to recent conversations. How often have you asked clarifying questions: “What makes you say/think/feel this?” “What more can you tell me?” “Why do you feel that is a reasonable conclusion?” “What will happen if we don’t do this?”
May your learning be sweet- and safe.