Do you like to project the impression that you’ve already got all of the answers? These days, there seems to something of a taboo around asking questions — but in avoiding admitting that we don’t already know every intricacy of the universe, we deliver some major disservices. As it turns out, going through life with a curious and questioning mind is the best way to bring out the best in ourselves and others.
If you really think about it, the importance of questioning makes perfect sense. As children grow and develop, “why” quickly becomes their favourite vocabulary go-to. In fact, if humanity hadn’t been asking questions for centuries, we would never have made the phenomenal scientific discoveries or drawn the insightful philosophical conclusions that make contemporarry societies so rich and intricate. Voltaire wisely once said “Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.” If the art of asking questions is such a key skill, how can we make sure we’ve mastered it?
Why Asking Questions Matters
Author of The Art Of Asking Essential Questions, Linder Elder, directly ties inquisitive thinking to quality of life: “The quality of our lives is determined by the quality of our thinking. The quality of our thinking, in turn, is determined by the quality of our questions, for questions are the engine, the driving force behind thinking.” Indeed, questioning the world around us is the vehicle by which we are able to discover all that we do about existence. As children, we learn through cause and effect, and then later, as adults, we overcome obstacles by actively exploring for new avenues through which we can progress. When we shut ourselves off from asking questions — be they directed at ourselves or others — we effectively ensure that we will stay stuck.
Of course, the reason we are able to outmanouver the unexpected is because our brains posess an extraordinary quality that we call neuroplasticity. When posed with a question, the brain lights up as if a hive of activity — serotonin is released as our minds enact an intelligence scouting mission. As useful values are identified at various locations within the brain, new neuronal connections begin to form. The more we do this the more mentally acrobatic we become, which makes us far less likely to revert to old patterns, and far more likely to keep pushing the envelope.
Great questions can lead to innovation at work or spotting new potential solutions to life’s challenges — but they can also help us get to know ourselves better, and identify what we really want out of life. A brilliant way to activate your own curiosity is to ask yourself to weigh in on such weighty questions as “What are the most important things to me in life?”, “What are my values?”, or “How do I define happiness — what would it look like to me?” With these big answers dug out from the corners of our minds, we can begin the work of asking new questions, such as how to better align our life with our vision and values. The best news is that the more questions we ask, the more mentally flexible and naturally inquisitive we become.
How To Ask Great Questions
Whether you’re asking questions of yourself or others, there are a few key tactics that you can adopt to draw out the fullest and most valuable responses. First and foremost, it is vital to ask open ended questions. When we ask questions that confine and restrict any potential answers that might be given, we stunt that marvelous neurological blossoming before it’s even begun.
To give an example, imagine you’re in a business meeting, trying to make an important decision with colleagues. A closed question might be “Did you think the proposal was good or bad?” Here, the answerer is pushed to leap to a conclusion right away, and will likely give a clipped response. A better alternative would be to ask “What did you think of the proposal?” This sets the stage for open exploration, fresh ideas on the table, and the chance to brain storm as a group. In this endeavour, the words what, how and why are certainly allies.
So, you’re forming good questions — what else needs your attention? Remember that there is more to asking questions than the right framing. You will also receive greater rewards if you are fully engaged, and open to receiving the information that is about to present itself. When we inwardly explore to discover answers, that serotonin release serves the purpose of helping us to immediately relax into a short-lived but optimal flow state. As the questioner, we can enhance this mechanism by ensuring our body language is open, facial expression relaxed, and that we are offering our full attention.
Finally, as you strive to move through life with greater curiosity, remember that no news is not always good news. Asking meaningful questions of others — and even ourselves — sends the message that we want to be fully in the picture. If others have felt that negative information might be met with judgement or irritation in the past, then a steady practice of kind and present curiosity is the best way to get vital data flowing again. Realities that we’d rather weren’t the case can only be addressed when we recognise the answers they reside within fully — and are then followed up with a fresh set of questions about how to move forwards. So, be bold, be curious, dig deeper, and experience your mind becoming ever-more adept at bringing solutions to light that you didn’t even know were stored away as puzzle pieces!
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