The Power of Questions

Questions…we all ask them, we all answer them: they are about discovering significant information. But so often we use them without the potential impact of the Power in a Question. Or, said better, The Power of a Well-Asked Question. Think about it.

First, questions can be asked with the potential to provide answers that are significant in both discovery and usefulness. As much as possible learn to ask open-ended questions. (That takes practice!) That is, avoid questions that can be answered by a simple yes/no or a number. The answer you receive will be equally simple and give you no further information or insight into the relevant context. Instead of asking, "Did you enjoy your vacation?", ask, "What was the most meaningful experience on your vacation?" Or, instead of "Have you finished the project yet?", ask, "Tell me where your progress is on the project," or "What have been the greatest challenges in the project?"

Second, there is a caution—and it is a behavior that when ignored greatly depletes the value of the open-ended question's power. The behavior: ask and then STOP and WAIT for an answer. You see, open-ended questions usually force people to think deeper before they answer—and you need to permit them the time to think. If you do not, instead getting antsy and trying to help them answer, they will let you answer for them. You will have learned nothing significant (and you may have proven to them that you really were not interested in them or their answer but only in one that fits your needs).

And that reminds me of a third dimension: how deeply and significantly people respond to your open-ended questions will be directly related to how much they trust you. The things they will wonder about might influence their answers: Why are you asking? Do you really care about them or the situation you are asking about? How will you use the information—for or against them? Will you respond and follow-up with your care and concern?

So the best behavior after asking a good open-ended question is "Let silence do the heavy lifting." That, too, takes practice—and patience!