You Do Not Need the Answers. You Need the Right Questions
A recent debate with a friend, over a Shakespeare quote led to changing a company culture for the better.
“To be or not to be? That is the problem,” the friend said.
“The problem, I replied, “is that’s not the quote. It’s: “To be or not to be? That is the question. “
“It’s not”, my friend declared. “It is,” I insisted. We went back and forth.
Turns out, we’re both right, depending on the language translation. Italian has “to be or not to be,” as “the problem.” English relates it as, “the question.”
More relevant than linguistically arm wrestling over the accurate translation, is highlighting the distinction between the two translations and then directing the quote’s merit to its impact on your company culture.
If your company culture sees questioning as a problem, it falls on you to correct that. Yes you. Regardless of your position. Put your title aside. You can lead a cultural change; one that values questions even more than it values answers.
“We thought we had the answers, it was the questions we had wrong.”
Ask Meaningful Questions
Asking meaningful questions is an art. Your question becomes the canvas and the people around you become the artists. They fill in the blank white space. They create the perspectives, lines, shadows and coloring.
In meaningful questioning, the others you involve become the artists. Not you! You give that up. You provide the canvas for their thought to be expressed.
“The uncreative mind can spot wrong answers, but it takes a very creative mind to spot wrong questions.”
Asking enables. Telling weakens. Asking draws out. Telling fills in.
“It’s not that they see the solution. They can’t see the problem.”
In the act of asking meaningful questions, we step back so others can step up and think things through for themselves.
The art of questioning enables dynamic and critical think-through. Finding relevant questions uncovers and reveals richer, more relevant answers.
Some cavalierly say there are no right or wrong questions. That’s dumb.
We all know there are wrong questions. One example of that kind of question is one that abruptly changes creative direction and momentum. Wrong questions may be right questions but not at the time they’re brought up. Wrong questions impose themselves on others. They intrude and distract thought streams and railroad group think-through down unwanted tracks.
Another example of wrong questioning is questioning asked by tellers.
Don’t Be a Teller
Tellers don’t ask anything meaningful. They’re too busy telling what they believe is meaningful. Tellers try to appear interested by asking questions. But their only interest is their answers.
Their questions aren’t open. They’re loaded. Their questions are leading and have agendas loaded behind them. Leading questions don’t take you where you could go – because they’re designed to take you where the teller wants you to go.
Tellers want others to recognize their answers, their direction, and their smarts. Tellers crave validation more than they thirst for fresh perspective.
Real leaders don’t ask leading questions. They ask questions that enable others to lead themselves and to develop their own critical thinking process, practice and skills.
Business cultures should not operate like elementary schools. Young kids are rewarded by fast hand raising and right answers. Dynamic business cultures reward penetrating insight and reflective business critical approaches.
Dynamic working cultures create conditions where questions have equal or greater value than answers.
“Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.”
Is your company culture too lopsidedly focused on answers over questions?
What Are the Right Questions?
Here are 10 ways you can stimulate greater appreciation for questioning:
- Learn to listen actively; don’t just wait to be heard.
- Ask yourself while listening, “What’s trying to happen here?”
- Supportively challenge assumptions without being presumptive.
- Question what’s behind the issue being focused on.
- Gain buy-in during meetings for specific time to explore alternative POV’s.
- If asking questions appears to irritate, seek to understand the irritation.
- Encourage thinking that isn’t based on assumption.
- Understand how others think and how they approach problem solving.
- Ask, “What questions should we be asking that we’re not asking?”
- Don’t be afraid to appear ignorant?
“He who asks a question is a fool for five minutes.
He who does not ask a question remains a fool forever.”
Time plays an important part in developing an appreciation for questioning. If time spent on asking is seen as wasted or unproductive, then how time is perceived needs to be re-examined. Time is neutral. Our biases color its value.
“It’s not that I’m so smart. But I stay with the questions much longer.”
Creating beautiful questions takes time. In the end, though the answers that come from beautiful questions can save a lot of time.
Creating fine art also takes time. Art excites. Inspires. Lifts us up into our imagination. Reveals the thrill of discovery. Takes us beyond what is, into what can be. Art redefines how we see, what we see and who we are as the seer who is seeing.
Dynamic questioning is a way of being. It is not being a problem.
Right questioning introduces imagination and possibility. Right questioning is inviting. It invites us into new ways of approaching work, working with others and the different ways they think and process information.
To be or not to be one who questions is the question. Not to be one who questions is the problem.
My question to you who is, how are your questions influencing your company culture and your impact on it?
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