Asking the right questions

Continuing our discussion on developing your own management and leadership skills, let’s consider the importance of asking the right questions. It may seem that you, the committee chair, are supposed to know and dispense all the answers, but in reality you, and those you lead, can learn a lot more when you pose pertinent questions.

Why is this? (There, a question!) I’ll let you think about it for a moment….

One reason is because questions open windows of enlightenment. When you ask questions, you provoke thought and enlighten others by the process of cogitating on the answer.

Another is that questions overcome resistance. If you make a statement, you could raise resistance to your viewpoint, but by asking questions that lead to your conclusion, others will lean in and offer their own answers.  This allows them to own their own conclusions. If you answer the question, you own the answer, but if you ask the question and others answer, they own the solution.

Even if you know the answer, ask the question! Two outcomes could result: you could verify that you have the right answer, or you could find out that you were wrong, or that there are other answers that make sense as well. In many ways, the best questions are the ones you think you’ve already answered.

The French philosopher Voltaire said “Judge a man by his questions, rather than his answers.” Welcome others to ask questions – you can learn a lot about their thought pattern, and whether they are on board with you, are willing to participate and understand. If they don’t ask questions, they may be disinterested or not paying attention. And though it may seem circular, answering a question with another question is a way to help the other person find their own path to the answer.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions! It’s a great tool to provoke thought, get answers, get people on board.


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