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How Do You Ask a Question?

Sound dumb, doesn’t it? I mean, come on: How do you ask a question?

Is this a serious question?

No, I’m not talking about Closed or Open Questions, or even Bad Questions. Those are types of questions. I’m just asking the question how do you ask a question.

If you’re like students in my workshops, the typical answer is you learnt it at school. You were probably taught to start the sentence with one of the six generic adverbs (who, what, where, when, why and how).

Next, you added the iconic swirly punctuation point at the end. (By the way, did you know the formal name for the question mark is the eroteme?)

That’s all great. It’s how to ask a question grammatically.

But wouldn’t you think there’s actually a process to asking questions? A sort of “how-to” or recipe.

Think about it. How many times in your lifetime have you asked a bad question? Bad questions get you bad answers, just like vague questions get you vague information. Wouldn’t you think someone would have taught us along our childhood path to adulthood that there’s a simple recipe to asking a questions.

More so (in the spirit of this website), isn’t it true that Good Leaders ask Good Questions. (Notice that’s not a question.)

The good news is it’s a simple recipe.

It's a Two-Step Process

I don’t remember any of the details except it was a crappy airline magazine on a crappy airline flight. I want to say the article was written by, or featuring, Oprah Winfrey. I think. Well, it makes sense. She does ask questions for a living, if nothing else.

Whatever else happen, I don’t know … but I remember the recipe.

One:  What specific information do you want?

Two:  What specific question will get you that specific information?

I may need a better hobby, but I think that’s interesting. If you don’t know what you want or what you’re looking for, how will you ask the right question? Again, if we haven’t been taught, doesn’t it make sense we’re asking as many bad questions as good questions, how do we know if we’re getting good or bad information?

The Stupidest Phrase Ever

Related to this, here’s the worst phrase in business that takes the enamel off my teeth.

You can look really smart by asking a dumb question.

No, you don’t!

Has anyone ever asked you a dumb question? I’ll bet money you didn’t think: Oh wow, this person is really smart.

Here’s a thought. Look smart by asking a smart question.

Side note:  An excellent article here on The Surprising Power of Questions in the Harvard Business Review.  (You may need a subscription.)

Any questions … about questions?  

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How Do You Ask a Question?