The Power of asking the right questions

Seyi Kehinde-Peters

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.

— Albert Einstein,

All parents are often inspired and frustrated with the barrage of questions they get from their little children. Children can ask up to 100 questions in a single day; from asking why the sky is blue to why chocolate cookies are not acceptable for dinner. Several studies however show that as children grow older, they ask less questions; one of the many reasons for this is that our educational systems reward students for having the right answers and not asking the right questions.

Many leaders believe that it is their responsibility to have the answers to every question and the solution to every problem. In my opinion, it is more important for business leaders to ask the right questions that stimulate collective intelligence of their team to provide solutions to the problem, than it is to always have the answer. Asking the right questions is the foundation of critical thinking and is an invaluable skill now and in the future. The Right Questions:

  • Open the door to new awareness, growth, and learning.
  • Are laden with empathy and shift your point of view.
  • Unlock solutions you could not see before
  • Open the conversation to even more questions

For some people, questioning (the ability to ask the right questions) comes easily. They are naturally inquisitive, have developed emotional intelligence and can frame the ideal questions easily; But others are not so gifted. So how do you develop the skills of asking the right questions?

  1. Ask more questions:This seems obvious right? But maybe not. Most of us do not ask enough questions, nor do we pose our inquiries in an optimal is not just asking more questions, but focusing on the type of questions, the tone of voice used to ask the questions and How the questions are framed.
  2. 5Ws and H:The term 5Ws and H refers to the six basic questions to ask when gathering information or solving a problem. The questions What, Who, Why, Where, When and How are very effective in arriving at the right answers and solutions and can be applied in different ways. It has its roots in Journalism but can be applied to effective communication, project management, Research, business planning to name a few
  • What? (Problem, Idea, Event e.t.c)
  • Who? (Person, People, Company e.t.c)
  • Why? (Reason, Cause, Motivation)
  • Where? (Place, Country/City, Setting e.t.c )
  • When? (Year, Season, Past/Present/Future)
  • How (How did it happen? How is it made?)

Beyond the 5Ws and One H, another W- Which, helps consider the concept of selection and helps to look at options and risks.

  1. The Socratic Method: Socrates was most famous for being inquisitive. The Socratic method is named after Greek philosopher Socrates who was reported to teach students by asking question after question seeking to expose flaws or contradictions in the other person’s line of thinking and then guide them to solid, tenable conclusions. This is a negative questioning technique, and you have to be careful not to make people feel or appear stupid. It is done using the steps below:
  • Summarize or paraphrase the person’s point of view or argument.
  • Ask them to provide their evidence
  •  Challenge the underlying assumptions
  • Get them to reformulate their position

Most important of all is to focus on the objective of the questioning as the “right” questions can only be evaluated within the context of the purpose of the conversation.

Cheers to your success

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