One of the most effective tools in communication is the ability to ask questions. Being able to ask effective questions is a skill we must acquire. Skillful questioning is one of the key ingredients of solid and successful relationships, strategic planning, and significant exchange of information and opinions. Questions that are poorly constructed and weak can lead to a poor communication exchange and may cause misunderstanding.
Skillful questioning techniques are considered the foundation for powerful questions. With powerful questions, we are able to dig deep into a confusing issue and find out more information, we can compare our personal viewpoints with the realities of life, and we can learn what the perspectives of other people are. If we lack the ability to be inquisitive, we assume that we already know everything there is to know. Unfortunately, it is not always the way it is.
What Makes a Powerful Question?
Considering the fact that we can actually just create any type of question, how can we know if the question is powerful? What characterizes a powerful question? In essence, a powerful question triggers curiosity in a listener and encourages reflective conversation. It is thought-provoking, can imply basic assumptions and stimulates a person’s creativity and new opportunities. It is the kind of question that strikes a different effect and creates an impact on both the speaker and the listener. A powerful question is one that elicits more questions to be asked. Consider the following questions and assess their level of power:
1. What is your favorite day of the week except Saturday?
2. Did you feed the cat and walk the dog today?
3. What are the possibilities of life that were not discovered yet?
4. Why is it necessary to observe proper social ethics?
Questions one and two are obviously less powerful than the last two types. The weight of a powerful question is heavy in a way that it can be addressed to a conversation in a larger group. It surpasses or exceeds certain limits. So these questions have the ability to travel well or spread beyond a simple private conversation. And because of this nature, such questions can possibly create or contribute change on a larger scale.
The Dimensions of Questions
Now that we know that powerful questions are broader in scope or reach and can even bring about change not just on individual lives but on organizations and communities as well, understanding the basic structure of formulating such questions is very important. A powerful question has three basic dimensions: construction, scope, and assumptions.
The linguistic construction of questions affects its effectiveness and importance. It was found out that questions starting with “Why,” “How,” and “What” are more powerful as compared to queries that start with simple “Who,’ “When,” “Where,” and “Which” which may fall under the less powerful category. This is because powerful questions motivate more reflective thinking and more profound level of conversation.
The second dimension is the scope of the question which simply means knowing how to tailor the kind of question to our needs. The extent of asking the question must only be within the needs of the situation and realistic goals.
Lastly, the assumptions embedded into most of the questions must be appropriately applied. To demonstrate it, you might as well ask “What can be done to prevent it from happening again?” instead of “Why did you fail to do it?” The first question stimulates reflective thinking in contrast to the second question.
Developing the Skill of Powerful Questioning
We are all capable of asking powerful questions and developing our questioning skill given the tips below in enhancing the ability to question.
Before backing up your points or ideas, always ask first a question relevant to the topic or subject matter. Be wary and cautious with false assumptions as they destroy a smooth conversation flow. Revisit old assumptions and make sure to eliminate them in your questioning. Make it a point to ask rather than interrogate like how investigators conduct their way of asking questions. This involves essential elements such as the voice tone, body language, and word choice in order to generate effective communication. Always consider your intention in asking questions. Lastly, start the goal of developing your skillful questioning ability now in whatever aspect you are in.