When we communicate we ask often ask questions. When used properly, questions help increase our understanding and give us greater knowledge of the particular topic. They help us more precisely define a ‘problem’ and to break it into components that can then be solved.
Often, however, we simply ask the ‘wrong’ questions.
Sometimes questions are used when people wish to hide commands, judgements or injunctions. That is, we couch a judgement, statement or instruction within a question because it allows us to be one step removed from what we really want to say.
For example, you will often hear people ask questions like “Why did you do that?” The implication of that question is not to try to enhance understanding, but as a judgement or injunction that may really be “you shouldn’t have done that!”
When do you ask questions that are not really questions?
Questions are powerful because they allow us to see into the beliefs, understandings and values of others. They help us to uncover the specifics within a situation and allow us to examine in more detail the elements that make up a circumstance. These elements often contain simple things which can be solved to change a whole situation.
Questions ask for very specific things. Often people know what they what to find out, but ask the wrong question. Consider the following questions and what they deliver:
“What”: provides content
“How”: provides process
“Why”: provides reason or justification
“When”: provides time
“Who”: provides the actors or participants.
If we ask ourselves the right questions when we stuck in a global (non-specific) situation we are able to break down what seems to be an impossibly large and complex thing into specific elements that we can understand and operate with. For example, “Anxiety”, “Overwhelm”, “Crisis” are all global problem states that are almost impossible to solve. Asking questions to understand the elements and specifics can break these down into solvable parts.
We can start to ask really important questions – the right questions – like “how do we understand”, “how do we determine”, “how do we judge”, “what specifically do we do now?”
When do we do this we start to break global problems into concrete situations that we can deal with, one step at a time.
Try it – the next time you or someone you are working with is ‘stuck’, try asking very specific questions. Avoid adding judgement or injunction and simply seek more specific information. What happens?