If you want to know the answer, the trick is to ask the right question. This might seem too basic but bear with me a little while and you’ll see where I am taking you to.

Principally there are three types of question: one which is designed to show how cleaver the issuer is, one which genuinely enquires in search of an answer and lastly one that is simply a statement requesting no answer at all such as: “Marriage is a wonderful institution, but who would want to live in an institution?”

Like most of us, I am flooded with questions on a daily basis, it’s an important part of my job. Stupid questions (and yes there is such a thing as a stupid question) can be very irritating and time consuming unless (unlike me) you are prepared to be rude by telling those that ask them to engage their brains before opening their mouths? 

For those of us that hold useful knowledge, questions can become a real pain. If we are too quick in giving answers our enquirers become lazy and simply rely on us to supply them with information wherever and whenever they want it, and yet, if we are too reluctant we are accused of being unhelpful.

In India, it was once the custom for a person to live a lifetime of servitude to a guru in the hope of one day being permitted to ask a question. Today most people feel they have the right to ask a question to anyone, even if they are not qualified to do so. For example, I would feel very uncomfortable asking Steven Hawkins a question on quantum physics because I do not feel that I have sufficient understanding of the subject. 

I like the line from Joan Osborn’s song ‘One of Us’: “What would you ask if you had just one question?” (Referring to a theoretical meeting with God). This question is the question of all questions and drives us directly to ask ‘what is it that we need to know?’

I have been building some on-line questionnaires recently. The trick here is to know what the problem is that the questionnaire is solving and why you want to solve it, before writing the questions.  

Too often questionnaires are too long and complex, posing questions to which no answer seems appropriate. And so it is in meetings. I like to prepare before I go into a meeting. For me preparation is not only a sign of respect but also a question of being efficient. Carefully thought through questions usually deliver carefully considered answers. By considering in advance how the receiver of the question might answer, focuses us on revising the question.  After all what is the point of a question that does not lead to increasing understanding?

A very practical example of the need to form the right question comes with the use of internet search engines. We know the answer is out there somewhere but how can we find it without being bombarded with irrelevant and mind diverting material? For example try going to Google to find information on the Paris Hilton…

 

(If you want to become an expert in finding information on-line here is a good place to start: 20 tips for more efficient Google searches)

In this holiday season week I am reminded in the Christian bible that three wise men came to visit the baby Jesus, I wonder what Mary and Joseph asked them?

Happy holiday season

Have a good week,

Harley