There Are Stupid Questions
Who ever said there are no stupid questions was wrong. Drucker said, “The truly dangerous thing is asking the wrong questions.”
Your questions establish, limit, and maintain the focus of others.
A question: How many passes? (55 sec. video)
Wrong questions – wrong direction:
Questions control perceptions. Tal Ben-Shahar, author and speaker at the World Business Form 2011 said, “Questions create reality by defining reality.”
Wrong questions deliver wrong answers that create wrong trajectories. Tal asked, “What if the only thing you ask is about what doesn’t work?”
- What went wrong?
- What isn’t working?
- What do we need to fix?
Questions are statements:
Leaders tell others what matters by the questions they ask. Each question below contains statements.
- How are you?
- What are you working on?
- How can I help?
Unguided passion and a misguided pursuit of excellence may motivate you to ask dead-end questions that create negative focus.
- “What should you have done,” is a backward facing criticism. Should have’s belittle sincere effort and past wisdom.
- “What can we do next time,” accomplishes the same objective while building rather than tearing down. It presses into a future of possibilities, together.
Stupid “why” questions:
Asking why someone did something suggests there’s a good reason. Why did you hit your sister? Why did you throw a rock through the window? What questions, in this context, are better than why questions.
Well-crafted questions create your future.
What are some examples of dead-end, stupid questions?
Can you transform a negative question into a positive?
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Great post, Dan. This makes me think about the questions I ask when working with a team. Leaders can certainly guide a discussion with the questions they ask. The team can interpret questions as “here’s why you shouldn’t do that” or as you imply “here’s where you screwed up.”
Thank you Christian.
Your comment makes me think about how hearers interpret our questions and comments from their own perspective. Perhaps we should spend a bit more time encouraging and building confidence in others so they have the ability to see things from a “can do” approach.
This is a great article and excellent advice for leaders. I would add one other for leaders, “Be careful what you ask for.”
Thanks for jumping in, Simon.
“Well crafted questions create your future.”
So true. This concept can be translated everywhere – in the marketplace, in ministry and in marriage!
Imagine if the questions we asked those we love were crafted for the positive…
What if the questions we asked were crafted from the positive? Great question!
Hi Dan the awareness test just blew me away and yes I did feel stupid but in a good way. Nice to know I can stay focused on the chore requested and not be distracted by life’s “bears.” LOL 🙂 have a great weekend,
Hi Al, I never saw the dang bear either. Great weekend to you too. Cheers, Dan
The comparison of say “What should you have done,” is a backward facing criticism. Should have’s belittle sincere effort and past wisdom” is a great line, because it really is true. It almost reminds me of what my parents would have said to me when I did something wrong.
Parenting can be a classic illustration of sincere passion to help someone goes wrong. We want our children to excel so we talk to them about the things they’ve done wrong.
Thanks for commenting,
A forward focus question asks, “What will you do differently next time?”
Any resources for examples of better questions?
Great post Dan and I liked it but what about fear of asking questions ? Don`t you think fear of asking wrong questions is a demotivating factor. In fact asking question encourage people to ask more and more relevant questions.
Hi Dan, maybe I am stuck at the title, but reading again, I still can’t say I am on the same page. There are no stupid questions. A process of enquiry is only as effective as the questions you ask. Ask the wrong question, you get to the wrong answer which does not work, meaning you go back to the drawing board and ask more questions. The trick is to keep asking the questions until you get to your right answer, as opposed to making the same mistake over. Questions help you eliminate methods that don’t work, so with hindsight, there really are no stupid questions in my opinion. While you may take longer due to stupid questions, you will get there, and you will also know which ones not to ask next time as they did not work.
Great post, Dan. Fritz Perls, the founder of Gestalt Therapy, said that most questions are simply statements with a hook at the end.
Now there’s a name I haven’t heard in a long while. I love Perls. He’s such an individual. 🙂 Plus, he’s right. …
Thanks for stopping in… cheers,
The stupidest questions are the ones that have no right answer and close off discourse.
I used to report to a manager who was an attorney by training (in a non-attorney role), and this person was famous for, in emotion, asking “What were you thinking?” when something hadn’t gone favorably.
I am an educator, so my nature and my gut agree with Thabo that there are no stupid questions, but this experience tells me that there are.
When my boss, as a powerful executive in the organization, threw this question out, it not only accused the person the boss was speaking to that they were incompetent and had done something wrong, it limited a free discussion about how to improve because people were suddenly afraid they had lost respect from the senior leadership and their jobs were in danger.
Security (including job security) is very close to the base of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
Thanks for the topic, Dan.
I think we have certain expectations that don’t necessarily match up. Usually I think of stupid questions as the ones other people are asking, but the main point of this is the questions I as a leader am asking others. To ask the right question leads to getting answers that help staff grow and think.
Also, I think the point of the video is to not get caught up in the wrong point – counting passes when something else completely is happening.
I think negative questions are unfulfilled wishes. If someone says why are we doing this? They probably think there is a better way. Ask a question in return. Do you think there is a better way to accomplish this? Instead of asking what isn’t working, ask what is working and how do bring that process to other areas of the business.
Great post! I’m finding and getting a lot of mileage out of the phrase, “Help me understand.” I find this a much better substitute to the question “why”. My goal is not to find some hidden motive for why something was done but rather I’m looking for them to walk me through their thought process as the moved toward a particular action or decision.
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Leaders who ask good questions ask on topics that pertain to the mission, vision, and values of the organization. Everything should be guided to reflect “are we on course?”. Since decision-making is or at least, should be guided by the mission & goals of the organization, any questions less than the focus are meaningless.
Great post! And I have to say like other people on this comment thread. It’s made me start to be more conscious of the questions I’ll be asking going forward.
In fact, I’ve just finished a management meeting (conference call) and the team lead did ask “What do we need to fix?” in relation to a project, which is failing.
Asking bettering questions will certainly be in the forefront of my mind…NOW!.