Questions are the way we connect with others and learn more about them. And that goes for friends, family, partners, and coworkers. The way we shape a question sets the tone for a conversation, but the communication doesn’t stop there: it’s also important to really listen to the answers you hear. But the answers you receive will largely depend on the way you ask a question, so it becomes important to know how to ask better questions of those around you to open communication, find common ground, and aim for a better, more positive outcome.
An easy way to think about this is to consider an interview you really enjoyed. Why did you like it? What qualities did it have? How did you feel about the interviewer? Often the reason we enjoy an interview is not just because of who is being interviewed, but more because of what questions the interviewer asks. Do you prefer one late-night talk show host over another? That might be because of the way he or she asks questions.
Many of us want to be engaged when we listen to interviews and, possibly, even hear our own questions asked. And that same desire translates to conversations you have with others: you want to be engaged and so does the person you’re talking to. Conversations are far more rewarding when we ask good, thoughtful questions because all parties are engaged in the question and the answer.
Terry Heick, who is the founder of TeachThought, talks about the lessons we can learn from bad questions in his article “Why Questions Are More Important Than Answers.” Although speaking from the perspective of the teacher, much of what he discusses can be translated to everyday conversations. From what makes a bad question (Heick says a bad questions is a confusing one) to timing and figuring out what you want a question to do, there are lots of ways to approach asking better questions.
Heick also supports the idea that asking better questions is far more important than being right or seeking correctness: “Questioning is the art of learning. Learning to ask important questions is the best evidence of understanding there is, far surpassing the temporary endorphins of a correct ‘answer.’” The Harvard Business Review also tackles this idea, noting that “Most people don’t grasp that asking a lot of questions unlocks learning and improves interpersonal bonding.”
Both articles referenced above give great tips on how you can start tailoring your questions to open conversations, learn more, and engage people better. There are many angles to consider, too, from the sequence of words to how much detail you include. It’s definitely an art that takes practice, but the reward will be great.
And if you feel particularly stuck, you can always take questions from How Do You See The World? and bring those into your daily life. The questions in the game are constructed to get people to think, to spark learning, and to create conversations -- not focus on correct answers. So grab a card and start asking!