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Chronicles from a Caribbean Cubicle

12/06/2005

On Asking Better Questions

In a couple of speeches given recently, it has struck me that I appear to be learning less and less. I long for the days when I thought I could offer some powerful answers to the questions of the day, and apply some well-thought out conclusions to my audiences.

However, I find myself only being able to come up with questions.

More questions than the average person asks, to be sure, but still more questions than answers. At the start of each of these speeches I told people that I could not promise them solutions. Instead, I promised to share with them some of the questions that my colleagues and I were asking, and some of the answers that were coming up with. Our answers were admittedly partial.

Fortunately, the experiences were interesting and stimulating. It was exciting to share “partial answers” with a large group, and to let them in on the knowledge we are developing as a part of our own discovery process.

To be honest, I did have a concern that I might appear to them to not know what the heck I was talking about, given that I was coming to them with more questions than answers. Supposedly, they wanted me to speak because I know something about the topic, not because I know a bunch of questions.

But, in each case, my fears were unfounded. I found the following.

Intimacy
Sharing the problem and our thinking about the issues allowed people to better understand the issues themselves, as they could relate to the problem. In most cases, they already had done some thinking about the issues. No-one might have gone as far as we did in our thinking. No-one might have asked as many questions as we have. No-one may have been willing to share the partial answers derived.
But I did sense that people wanted to do their own thinking, even if they did it as part of an audience in a group setting.

Partnership
By opening up the issue with our questions, I sensed that they felt included as our partners in coming up with answers. This partnership could be used to get at better answers, if we both engaged in the questions for long enough.

Credibility
Any concern that I had about my own credibility disappeared when I found out that by virtue of the thinking we have done, we were asking better questions than others. I used to think that an expert was someone who had all the answers, but I’m not convinced that a Master is someone who has better questions, taking me back to my days of reading Tony Robbins personal development books.

Expertise can be demonstrated by the kinds of questions that are asked, as they show that the expert has moved from the easy answers to the more difficult ones, and the audience in each case enjoyed the process of learning by asking, versus learning by being told.

I think the days of being respected by having “all the answers” are essentially over – there is too much knowledge available to the average professional through the internet to allow it to continue. Instead, there is a new kind of respect coming from “having all the questions” especially when the mere fact of asking the questions demonstrates courage, conviction and intelligence.

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