The art of asking good questions

It’s one thing to have the courage to ask for help, as I mentioned in my last post about Amanda Palmer’s book The Art of Asking.

It’s something else again to be able to form a question that actually elicits helpful answers.

We’ve been discussing this in my Facebook group, the Clarity Kitchen, and there have been some interesting and insightful comments.

The short version is:  ask a fuzzy question, get a fuzzy answer.

And I see this all the time – face-to-face and online, in business and in personal life.

A fuzzy question is, quite simply, a waste of everyone’s time. Even the most well-meaning, intelligent person is unlikely to be able to offer a reply that will actually help the questioner progress along a useful path. Instead, everyone ends up frustrated and nothing gets accomplished.

The challenge here, of course, is that asking a clear, focused, and engaging question takes work.

So, without meaning to be snarky, I’ll hypothesize that one of the reasons many people ask fuzzy questions is because they’re looking for a short-cut to clarity. Unfortunately, what they end up with is false clarity – false, because it’s based on asking the wrong type of question – and they can waste an awful lot of time and money as a result.

As one person in the Clarity Kitchen commented:

I think if you can frame a question well, you have automatically considered multiple variables as well as sharpened your intention. It also seems that many people get their minds cluttered by details which are in the end extraneous and irrelevant. Sometimes they are disconnected facts, but other times they are subconscious beliefs about ourselves and the world. With a clear head and open mind, we liberate our intuition and make available our personal power to take on problems in a fresh way. Not to mention you can dialog intelligently with others on your team that can help. It is my belief that if you have asked a good question, you are already halfway there to the answer.
~ Arthur Lau-Sed, Common Sense Technologies, Eureka Springs, Arkansas

In other words, as I responded in the group, a good question often contains at least part of the answer.

Please note that I am emphatically not saying that we should spend all our time getting clear on our questions and then we’ll miraculously not have to ask them after all. We really do need input from others, feedback to help us continue the process of getting clear, and different perspectives on the situation. In fact, as anyone familiar with my work knows, I think it’s crucial to get that sort of input about our work, because we simply cannot experience what we do in the ways our clients experience it.

But when we take the time to think through what we are actually trying to accomplish and, as Arthur says, allow (or push) ourselves to weed out what’s extraneous, we’ll ask questions that are clearly focused, giving our audience what they need to be truly helpful.

And then we all make progress!