What is a question? How powerful are questions?
Over the past couple of months I have read books and heard speakers expand on the power of questions. Well know and respected authors and speakers such as John Maxwell, Tony Robbins, Malcolm Gladwell, James Clear and Michael A. Singer all preach the power of great questions. The general consensus is the better the quality of the question, the greater the chances you will experience the befits of a quality answer and uncover new and meaningful distinctions.
Google the word “question” and you will run across the following definition:
ques·tion – a sentence worded or expressed so as to elicit information.
So, if the goal or intent of a question is to elicit information is it a safe to conclude, the better the question, the better the answer?
Here is a personal example of a distinction that I uncovered last week while I was in West Palm Beach for Date with Destiny. In the past, after something happened to me I would react and ask myself, “What can I do or what do need to do about this?” Instead my new question is, “What does this mean and what can I learn from this?” The first question causes me to act or react while the second challenges me to think and reflect. Both can lead to the same action or outcome.
Asking “What can I do or what do need to do about this?” infers that something must be done and action must be taken. It’s something I, and many others, have been struggling with much of my life. It makes us reactionary. What if no action is required?
Asking “What does this mean and what can I learn from this?” gives me time to process and take a more meaningful and thoughtful action. It causes me to dig deeper. It’s the difference between acting and reaction. It allows me to be intentional.
Asking good questions has many applications. It allows us to set ourselves up to see things with an open mind and heart. They also calibrate our lenses and open us up to possibilities our old questions or bad questions closed us off to.
Are you ready to go a little deeper into the power of questions and go back in time to 400 BC? Here we go…
Socrates (469-399 B.C.) was a classical Greek philosopher who is credited with laying the fundamentals of modern Western philosophy. He is known for creating Socratic irony, the Socratic method and Socratic questioning.
Socratic questions(SQ) utilized an educational method that focused on discovering answers by asking questions from his students. Socrates believed that “the disciplined practice of thoughtful questioning enables the scholar/student to examine ideas and be able to determine the validity of those ideas”.
Plato, a student of Socrates, described his rigorous method of teaching to explain that the teacher assumes an ignorant mindset in order to compel the student to assume the highest level of knowledge. Thus, a student has the ability to acknowledge contradictions, recreate inaccurate or unfinished ideas and critically determine necessary thought.
Socratic questioning is a form of disciplined questioning that can be used to pursue thought in many directions and for many purposes, including: to explore complex ideas, to get to the truth of things, to open up issues and problems, to uncover assumptions, to analyze concepts, to distinguish what we know from what we do not know, to follow out logical consequences of thought or to control discussions. Socratic questioning is based on the foundation that thinking has structured logic, and allows underlying thoughts to be questioned.
The key to distinguishing Socratic questioning from questioning per se is that Socratic questioning is systematic, disciplined, deep and usually focuses on fundamental concepts, principles, theories, issues or problems.
So, how do we frame our questions in a useful and positive manner and apply Sacratic questioning to our everyday life and make it a practice? Quite often it is just a simple shift and opening ourselves to learning, exploring and growing. Instead of asking, “Why me?”ask, “What can I learn from this?”
Instead of asking, “How can I get people to like me?” ask, “What do people like most about me””. Note that questions with negative inferences or ones that close you off to all possibilities limit the quality and positivity and power of the answer. The quality of your questions, whether you are exploring and testing theories in a classroom environment or wondering what the conversation you just had with your boss meant, make all of the difference in the world.
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” Mathew 7:7
I read somewhere years ago, “knowledge is having the right answer and wisdom is asking the right question”. In any and all situations in life, the right question will take you farther, faster and help you make the most out of your journey.
Questions of the week:
- How can I improve the quality of my questions?
- What are my current(s) questions costing me?
- What is the best question(s) I can ask myself daily?
Take the time to honestly and thoughtfully answer these questions. Share your thoughts and ideas with your team and your leaders, your family and your friends.