Ask better questions

Let’s talk about what constitutes a good question.

If you are problem solving, you need to formulate a question that gets you closer to a solution. Approach your questions from the standpoint of an outcome.

There are many questions you could pose that would result in a lot of extra information, lots of new or revisited data points. And not all of them would be useful.

So, how do you ask questions that result in helpful answers?

Get everyone focused from the start. You might want to to try telling the person you’re asking what you’re trying to figure out up front. That’s probably the easiest way to help them frame their opinions in a focused way, and cull all of the possible data points down to ones that might be most helpful to you.

Know what your assumptions are when you ask. Where you don’t have validated, empirical validation, you have assumptions. Assumptions are actually fine in my opinion, but be aware of them (in other words, recognize that they are assumptions!) and be prepared for the answers you get to your questions pushing up against those assumptions. This is great. (Pro tip: state your assumptions to others to frame up your question well.)

Evaluate the response to your question through the lens of its utility. Does it help, or is it just interesting and distracting? Can you act on it? Go ahead and have the other person explain how their answer is helpful. Asking questions is a method of communication – so… communicate! “Tell me more about that,” or, “Can you put that into context of what I’m doing here?” or, “Help me understand how that applies,” and so on.

There’s no such thing as a dumb question, sure, but there’s also an opportunity to ask better questions. Keep the outcome in mind when you frame your questions, help your people cull through information for you, be aware of your assumptions, and evaluate responses for how useful they are.

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