Asking the right questions

Good questions lead to great conversations. What makes for such questions? It’s easier to start with what isn’t a good question.

The questions that we most often hear, are not good questions. We’ve heard them too often and have canned responses for them.

High-level questions, such as “how is life” or “how are you doing” are not good questions. The problem with these questions is that they leave things ambiguous. An ambiguous question has several answers, and has respondents facing two battles – one with having to answer the question itself and the other with having to think how their answer would be perceived. These high-level questions that we hear so often are said to have no “wrong” answer, so that people can be comfortable in expressing whatever they wish to. This choice, however, leads to people mostly sticking to the surface, and avoiding the discomfort of being specific.

“What’s up?”

“The usual”

“How are you doing?”

“I’m doing well.”

As opposed to asking children “how was your day?”, maybe we ought to ask “what were two things that you learnt today?” or “which class did you enjoy the most today? “How are you”, could be replaced with “What are you looking forward this week?”. The rule of thumb – questions that have no “wrong” (read specific) answers, are ones that need to be re-framed.

Needless to say, good conversations are serendipitous and the questions that unlock them depend on the situation involved. The best ones come from our ability to care enough to be specific.

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