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How to Ask a Good Question

On March 11, 2015, in Heather Bussing, HRExaminer, Learning, by Heather Bussing

Can a giraffe touch its nose with its tongue?

Can a giraffe touch its nose with its tongue?

We have most of the knowledge of the Universe in our pocket, along with a whole lot of things we may never understand. Like reality shows, overexposed photos of ugly dresses, and tattoos of unicorns in compromising positions. (No. I’m not giving you a link. Google it.)

We really don’t have to remember or know information. It’s easy and quick to find. Memorizing the periodic table is kind of silly. Well, maybe it was always silly.

Instead of learning what to remember, we need to learn how to think.

We need to learn how to ask really good questions, then how to evaluate the results we get for relevance, credibility, and importance.

You can practice law for 30 years and get pretty good at asking questions. (Not recommended.) Or you can try this.

What’s the Point?

Are you curious or do you want to know something specific?

Curious

If you are curious, ask loose open ended questions: Tell me about black holes? What happened next? What was that like?

If you want to get someone talking, be a little more specific to make it easier for them to respond: What was the weirdest thing that happened at school this week? How did your talk with Alex go? How are you feeling after your procedure?

If you are genuinely curious, you need to stick around to hear the answer, and pay attention instead of looking at your phone. Otherwise, people won’t want to tell you anything.

Need Something Specific

If you want to know something specific, ask tighter questions.

If you are using a search engine, ask it the question you want to know: Can a giraffe touch its nose with its tongue? What is the half life of Tylenol? Why couldn’t Sisyphus run away?

The trick is to know what you want to know. Sometimes, you have to be curious first to figure out what you need to ask.

Then, be as clear and specific as you can. So instead of: How big is a turtle? Ask: How long is a Green Sea Turtle? Then: How much does a Green Sea Turtle weigh?

If you are trying to get someone to tell you something, but asking more specific questions is not working, then move to questions that call for a yes or no answer.  Even then, you may have to drill down.

If I ask: Are you hungry? The answer will likely be: Not really, or Sort of. What I really want to know is how long do I have before people start melting down and need dinner, so a better question is: Did you eat lunch today? Then you may have to follow up with: What did you eat? When did you finish?

When You Want to Make People Mad

If you want to piss someone off, then start asking leading questions. A leading question is one that suggests the answer. It is designed to indicate what you want the person to say, or to try to box the person into saying what you want to hear.

Moms are good at this: What do you say when someone gives you a cookie?

Lawyers use leading questions to get people to say things they would avoid saying if given the chance: Isn’t it true that you ate the last Thin Mint? Then you opened the shortbread, didn’t you? And now the cookies are all gone, aren’t they? And I asked you to save me some, right?

These types of questions are hostile and designed to prove you are right, not find out information.

Aren’t you glad you ate all the cookies?

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