7 Strategies to ask better questions
“Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not love them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to love the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.” –Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
Can I help you? What can I do for you today? How are you feeling? How was your day dear? What’s up?
Simple, every day, numb questions put to you on an almost endless daily basis. What are the questions that really get your attention? HOW does a question get your attention? Is there such a thing as a safe question? Is there protocol when it comes to asking questions?
My life is questions. As a life coach my job is based on just the right question to ask of my client in order to create awareness, action, creativity, empowerment and outcome among other things. Questions can be intimidating all on their own but questions in a coaching session can be powerful and emotional and life changing. Questions from the client are also encouraged in a coaching session.
I was in the grocery store the other day and I ran into, literally, an acquaintance I had not seen in a few years. Our shopping carts hit one another. After the initial shock and happy “AHA” recognition, we pulled to the side of the aisle and started chatting. You can always tell when someone needs to talk because their voice changes and they seem to own the conversation. In this case the person I was chatting with really did seem to need to unload a bit of her life story. I listened to every word with patience and interest. When she was winding down she looked at me and said how sorry she was for talking so much. She then asked me how I do it. How do I make it seem like she is the only thing that is important and let everything else fall away. Clearly I did not come to the grocery store knowing I would run into her and offer to hear her story, I had important things to do today. I could see that her question to me was hard for her to ask. As adults it seems that only when our emotions seem high or about to go overboard do we somehow muster the courage to ask a question.
I looked at her eyes and I said, “I know it must have been difficult to tell me this story but how do you feel having shared your story with me?” She said she felt relieved first to have been able to just talk to someone without the intrusion or intimidation of being peppered with questions but mostly she felt calmer overall. By the way, that is the essence of coaching; to create a safe, inviting space to talk and explore. Spaces can be created anywhere at any time.
Questions have a way of bringing out the best or the worst in us. People, adults mostly, are afraid to ask questions because they
1) Fear looking stupid
2) They fear making another person uncomfortable
3) They fear the answer and don’t want to face any kind of truth, among other reasons.
What about young children? They ask an endless stream of questions every day and all day. No shame or hesitancy show up for them. They function on a need to know basis and they are relentless in getting their answers. Questions are a sign of an alert, curious, and growing mind. As adults our questions don’t stop coming they just get more strategic and purposeful. It is a human trait to question.
There are ways however, to ask questions that help you not only grow your curiosity but also encourage more bravery to ask more questions. According to Wikihow.com there are 7 strategies you can use when wanting to ask a question and appear intelligent while asking:
1) Start with something simple: Ex. ”How has all of this rain affected your garden this year?” It is direct, specific and simple to ask and answer.
2) Questions should be knowledge gathering: Questions are not only about knowledge but also about action. Ex. “I have heard the media say that our crazy weather is due to global warming while others say it is nature’s own cycle of events. Which do you think it is?” This kind of question creates discussion, awareness, opinion without judgment and could possibly create ideas toward broader understanding and action toward a cause or event. At the very least it started a conversation and created a feeling of belonging.
3) Never ask a question with aggression: This type of question gets people’s back up. It indicates you are right and they are wrong. You risk making yourself look argumentative and closed- minded. An example of a question with aggression starts with words like, IS IT TRUE or ISN’T IT A FACT THAT. Non aggressive questions sound like this: “Many people argue that more food would be available for everyone if society knew how to make better use of the food they buy instead of letting what they buy go bad. This argument seems to make some sense but do you know of any argument that takes an opposite view?
4) Be clear about your ideas and thoughts: Help people be aware of your exact way of thinking and why you take that position. You can do this by stating who you are and your field of interest, research or study. Anything that you are passionate about qualifies here. You don’t have to be an expert to ask a question for better understanding.
5) Be polite: Each of us has information that can help another person. Ask politely and openly and people will want to help.
6) Show gratitude: Even if you do not get all the answers you are seeking show appreciation and gratitude for the time spent with you and your question(s).
7) Never ask a question that you yourself are not willing to answer: Unless you are a lawyer required to push and push no matter how uncomfortable the other person is feeling it is rare that the average person will respond well to probing and grilling questions.
When my friend and I were ready to move on with our day and depart each other’s company she asked me if we could get together for coffee some time. I handed her my coaching card and said, “Yes, absolutely we can get together for coffee anytime, but I am getting the feeling that what you need is deeper than just a coffee conversation. I’m here for you as well whenever you want to go deeper and explore.”
In a coaching session questions help clients move toward their desired goal(s). Questioning is essential both from the coach and from the client. Safety, security, honesty, and integrity, are established in the space between the coach and the client. Wouldn’t it be so wonderful to know that you have the freedom to ask and explore your most intimate questions with a person who won’t judge, laugh, smirk, or betray your most vulnerable moments?
“Have you found someone to share your heart with? Are you giving to your community? Are you at peace with yourself? Are you trying to be as human as you can be? — Mitch Albom, Tuesdays With Morrie
*Image provided by Bing Images
Lisa has been featured in Parent Magazine and in the book Stay-At-Home Mom’s Guide to Making Money by Liz Folger. Please visit www.journeyoncoaching.com. or contact Lisa at firstname.lastname@example.org. Coaching is a great vehicle to help navigate through those sticky, tough, tumultuous times of parenting, career and life itself. All it takes is a spoonful of sugar and a desire to move forward passionately. If you would like to see how partnering in coaching can help create your best life so far please call or write to me and let’s start on that journey. Your personal discovery awaits….