1 Simple Strategy to Design Smart Questions
Leaders look through three lenses when they ask smart questions. One lens turns to the past and one focuses on the present. The third lens focuses on the future. Your challenge…
You don’t have time for smart questions about the past or future when the house is burning down.
How do we fix this? (Present)
What’s important right now? (Present)
What led up to this? (Past) You ask about past behaviors so you don’t repeat mistakes.
What do we want? (Future) You ask about the future to establish priorities in the present. Perhaps you should let something burn.
3 lenses of smart questions:
#1. Status updates turn to the past. “What happened?”
#2. You turn toward the present when you ask, “What are your current challenges?”
#3. Questions about the future center on desire and vision, “Where do we want to go?”
Smart questions don’t begin with verbs:
The following question starters make a mockery of curiosity.
- Wouldn’t you…?
- Couldn’t you…?
- Shouldn’t we…?
- Don’t you think…?
- Isn’t it a good idea to…?
Questions that begin with verbs search for agreement. Smart questions open minds. Dumb questions seek conformity.
Leading questions are a tedious waste of words.
1 simple strategy to design smart questions:
Practice using ‘what’ at the beginning of questions.
Don’t worry about any other types of questions until ‘what-questions’ feel natural.
Don’t ask the boss, “How did you become the boss?” Instead ask, “What were some tipping points on your leadership journey?”
- Don’t you think….?
- Wouldn’t it be true….?
- Do you agree?
Note: simple issues can be addressed with verbs. “Would you like to have lunch?” Either/or questions can begin with verbs. “Do you like red or black?”
What do dumb questions do?
What makes questions useful?
Questions Proactive People Ask
The Book of Beautiful Questions (Warren Berger)
Asking Powerful Questions (ri.gov)
Dan, I like your framework of asking questions related to timeframe. I also think it’s important and very useful to ask questions to determine how people are feeing.
–How do you feel about the new challenge?
–How do you feel about the setback?
–How will you feel when we accomplish the the goal?
Positive feelings can energize and motivate us.
Negative feelings can drain our energy and de-motivate us.
Smart questions uncover how people are feeling.
So true about the house burning questions. 30 years in Marketing and I still am bowled over when someone’s first question during a time-sensitive problem-solving session is, “How did this happen?” Yeah, we can figure that out after we’ve fixed/solved the big ugly in front of us.
And it’s those same people, after the fire is quenched, who ask why you want to revisit the ugly and “reopen the wound”. I think some people just like fighting fires, and are never going to be interested in preventing them. The key is figuring out why, and filling that need more productively.
Agreed! The wording and phrasing of questions is so important. It is also important to understand what the purpose is for asking the question.
I think using the word, ‘What’, is designed to get at the root of their thinking, purpose, or reasoning. However, I find that even the word, ‘What’ can make people feel defensive with their answer. I will often use the phrase, “Tell me about…” or, “Talk about…” or, “I’m wondering…” These are often extremely open-ended, which reduces any perceived judgment of the question and gives autonomy to the answerer to talk about their most important aspect of the topic.
That’s brilliant, pkurty.
Tone and demeanor contribute to the feel of inquiry.
Do we really care? Do we look like we really care?
Perhaps adding ‘could’ or ‘would’ is even more inviting. “Could you tell me more about…?”
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