Friday, August 21, 2015

questions...or statements?

Following a recent Q&A session on our campus, I had a discussion with one of my colleagues about how often people use questions to mask their statements and what they believe.  He came back and wondered whether all questions are really statements.  After a bit of back and forth, he had me thinking that he might be right.  After pondering the debate more thoroughly, I have come to the conclusion that there is a range of questions, moving from pure statement to little or no statement at all.  Let me explain...

Let's assume I recently painted a room in my home blue (which would probably never happen, so this is as fictional an example as it gets).  My wife comes home and asks me questions about my choice of color.  Here is the range I am talking about:

  1. Don't you think it would look better painted tan? (pure statement)
  2. Did you consider pointing the room tan? (still pretty close to pure statement)
  3. Why didn't you paint the room tan? (moving from pure statement to seeking information)
  4. Why did you paint the room blue? (seeking more information)
  5. I wonder why I prefer tan to blue? (looking inward for more information)
  6. If we were to repaint this room, would we choose blue again or look for another color? (seeking to come to a collaborative answer)
Moving from question #1 to question #6 takes considerable effort to shape the question and requires a mechanism by which one can internalize their thinking. While there still might be a hint of statement in all six questions, there is a definite progression from 'this is what I believe to be true' to 'while I believe something to be true, I am willing to explore other alternatives.'  For me, this is what the art of asking questions is about - the ability to think out loud with others in seeking a mutual solution to an issue.

A few tips on how to get better at asking questions that are more about the question than they are about making a statement:
  • stop to think about the question you are going to ask and see what biases might be in the wording
  • consider what issue you are really trying to solve and word the question in a manner that reflects that issue
  • assume there is information you do not yet know, and that the question is a way for you to get more information
  • come at the question from a place of humility, seeking to learn more about the situation at hand
  • if the situation affords you to do so, write down the question before you ask it...and speak it to yourself internally to see how it comes across
Finally, there are times it is appropriate to make a statement prior to asking a question.  If my wife walked in the room and said that she would rather have had the room painted tan (statement) she could follow up with the question of why I painted the room blue.  For me, as the questionee, I now know what she believes and I can answer from a place of not having to guess what type of answer she is looking for.  As for the role of the questionee in clarifying questions, I will leave that for another blog.  Have fun asking questions that are not (or are, according to my colleague) statements.


1 comment:

Jim Blanchard said...

In a classroom or training venue, how many of the questions do we ask as facilitators that are closer to #1 than #6? In sales training we are taught to ask questions that lead to the answer we want, usually YES. If my purpose is to enable creative thought to solve a problem or develop an idea, I need to be closer to #6. Even in Socratic teaching, the questions are often designed to keep a discussion within boundaries. Need to think on this more. Thank you Don.