Importance of asking questions!

11 JAN, 2015
by Bikash Mohanty

Children learn by asking questions. Students learn by asking questions. New recruits learn by asking questions. Innovators understand client needs by asking questions. It is the simplest and most effective way of learning. People who think that they know it all no longer ask questions – why should they? Brilliant thinkers never stop asking questions because they know that this is the best way to gain deeper insights. Questions are the best way to gain deeper insights and develop more innovative solutions.

The great philosophers spend their whole lives asking deep questions about the meaning of life, morality, truth and so on. We do not have to be quite so contemplative but we should nonetheless ask the deep questions about the situations we face. It is the best way to get the information we need to make informed decisions and for sales people it is the single most important skill they need to succeed.

So why do so few people utilize them? Why don’t we ask questions? If it is obvious that asking questions is such a powerful way of learning why do we stop asking questions?

  • For some people the reason is that they are lazy. They assume they know all the main things they need to know and they do not bother to ask more. They cling to their beliefs and remain certain in their assumptions – yet they often end up looking foolish.
  • Other people are afraid that by asking questions they will look weak, ignorant or unsure. They like to give the impression that they are decisive and in command of the relevant issues. They fear that asking questions might introduce uncertainty or show them in a poor light. In fact asking questions is a sign of strength and intelligence – not a sign of weakness or uncertainty. Great leaders constantly ask questions and are well aware that they do not have all the answers.
  • Finally some people are in such a hurry to get with things that they do not stop to ask questions because it might slow them down. They risk rushing headlong into the wrong actions.

With almost all situations, we can check assumptions and gain a better appreciation of the issues by first asking questions. We can start with very basic, broad questions then move to more specific areas to clarify our understanding. Open questions are excellent – they give the other person or people chance to give broad answers and they open up matters.

Lets take an example scenario, last week’s incident at paris: We express our sincere condolences to the families of those innocent people who lost their lives in last week’s terrorist attack at the office of the French newspaper Charlie Hebdo. This horrific attack on an independent media outlet is an attack against our values and our freedoms. We stand today in solidarity with the French people and its government as they seek to bring to justice the perpetrators of this attack. Examples of open questions are:

  • Why do we think “Paris shooting incident” has happened?
  • What all things that might have caused this incident?
  • What other possibilities should we consider?
  • Why it happened in Paris and not in other places in the west?
  • What role “France” is playing at the moment in global action against terrorism?

As we listen carefully to the answers we formulate further questions. When someone gives an answer we can often ask, “Why?” The temptation is to plunge in with our opinions, responses, conclusions or proposals. The better approach is keep asking questions to deepen our comprehension of the issues before making up our mind. Once we have mapped out the main points we can use closed questions to get specific information. Closed questions give the respondent a limited choice of responses – often just yes or no. Examples of closed questions are:

  • Has it stopped now?
  • Is it safe to visit Paris now?
  • How many people died in that incident?
  • Has any terrorist organization claimed responsibility yet?
  • What have they said in their reasons for causing this?

By giving the other person a limited choice of responses we get specific information and deliberately move the conversation forward in a particular direction.

Asking many questions is very effective but it can make us appear to be inquisitorial and intrusive. So it is important to ask questions in a friendly and unthreatening way. Let’s not ask accusing questions. Let’s try to pose each question in a way and ensure that your body language is relaxed and amicable. Let’s not jab our finger or lean forward as we put our requests/questions.

Happy Birthday to my best friend, who is celebrating his "19th Birthday" yet again.  Sunday is about to kick off and we should make ourselves comfortable with a special song and even more special cup-of-tea! Here we go: