There is an Art to Asking Good Questions

Community Respect Project

 People who become exceptional listeners, invariably have developed the ability to ask good questions.

Good questions usually lead to thoughtful answers and meaningful conversations, especially when the listener seeks to understand, rather than to get into a debate or argument.

Good Questions will usually get thoughtful answers. Remember, Asking Questions does come with built-in hazards.

There are at least six components that go into asking good questions. In addition to those components there is a popular statement about questions that needs to be modified.

  1. Meaningful questions are thought They will always require more than a simple one word answer.  For example, if we were to have a conversation about  racial  divide (a conversation it seems all of us should have) here are some thought provoking questions to ask:
    • Tell me what you believe about the racial divide experienced by many people?
    • What experiences and influences have led you to your conclusions about racial divide?
    • There seems to be several points of view about racial divide. What side of a given issue (ie. White Privilege, Black Lives Matter) do you land on?
    • Has your thinking on racial divide changed and evolved over time? How has it changed?
  2. A great question to ask someone who has a point of view or belief system that is sizably different than yours:
    • Could you help me understand your view on (fill in the blank, for example: voter identification)?
  3. Asking questions does come with built in hazards. It is easy to feel threatened or irritated by another person’s questions for many reasons. It is possible to eliminate or lessen those feelings with words like these:
    • I often learn by asking
    • Do you mind if I ask you some questions about your political views?
    • Thanks in advance for teaching me more about . (example: liberalism or conservatism)
  4. When asked in a reasonable way, people generally are ready  to  share their About 98% of all people have opinions about matters such as religion or faith, finances, politics, current events, controversies and (fill in the blank). Here is a reasonable way to approach their opinion (and yes, be ready to listen without verbally or visually responding.
    • From your perspective how do you see the issue of abortion?
    • Or, put slightly differently: What is your take (your opinion) about abortion?
  1. Feelings play a significant role how we approach life. Sometimes they are right on target, other times not so Ask someone how they feel about (their favorite sports team, about their job, about their neighborhood…) they likely will tell you. An interesting start to a discussion would be these questions.
    • What do you feel strongly about? Please explain.
    • What are some of your “I can take it or leave it” areas in your life
    • What are concerns, beliefs, that you could “could care less about?”

Good questions usually will get thoughtful answers, IF the one ques- tioning honestly desires to learn from, understand and dialogue with the individual who is being asked the questions.

  1. Certain phrases or questions can stimulate most any
    • Please tell me more?
    • Could you explain your thinking?
    • Please teach me about… ?
    • Could you clarify… ?
    • Please compare & contrast for me… ?
    • In your opinion, in what direction is this headed?

Remember, there is no such thing as a “Dumb Question”, but…

If you have heard it once, you have heard it a thousand times, so get ready for a different finish to the statement: “There is no such thing as a dumb question, BUT that question was SURE CLOSE!

There are at least five questions that either border on being dumb or will greatly hinder, or even shut off good communication. It is not wise to use these types of questions:

1.) Rhetorical questions that have an OBVIOUS answer need not be asked.

For example, do not ask a chocoholic “Would you like some chocolate cake for dessert?” (The better question may be… how BIG a piece of chocolate cake would you like?)

2.) Another question that drives people nuts:

Have you heard the story (the one) about      ? Possible answer: No, but I bet you are going to tell me the story. Possible answer (two): Yes I have heard the story, but would you like to tell it to me?

3.) The “Do you know that” question (Do you know the population of China doubles every…?)

Answer: I did not know that. I feel dumb for not knowing it.
Answer: I did not know it and I don’t want to know it; frankly I don’t care. 
Answer: Did I miss something? You make it sound like EVERYONE else knows about it.
Answer: You must be really smart because you know a lot about.

4.) Questions that allow only a one word answer, and then the questioner moves on without asking for further clarification.

Example: I believe the real answer is              . Do you agree or disagree with me?

5.) Close-ended questions that don’t allow the listener to express their opinion, drive people nuts.

Example: A smart person would never think that way about             , would they?
Example: You are religious, how could you possibly think that?

Over time I have come to under- stand why people say “There is no such thing as a dumb question,” BUT there are questions that reveal the asker’s ignorance, or lack of ability to ask good questions.

We all need to strive to ask the best questions that encourage true dialogue.

Picture of Wendell Amstutz, MA

Wendell Amstutz, MA

CEO | Author / Speaker | | 507-254-1265

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